Bluetooth, UWB Groups Converge

Bluetooth, UWB Groups Converge

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Written By Eric Sandler

By Michael Singer

May 4, 2005

Members of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) said they will consult with Ultrawideband (UWB) developers to evaluate how the two technologies can improve data transfers between PCs, phones and consumer electronics equipment.

The groups said the goal is to work toward an architecture that lets devices take advantage of UWB data rates (between 40 to 60 megabits per second and eventually up to 1 gigabit per second) for scenarios that require high speeds. They expect Bluetooth to remain the de-facto standard for lower data-rate needs and act as a backward-compatible link with existing devices.

“The downside is that backwards compatibility will be limited,” said Dan Benjamin, a senior analyst with IT consultancy ABI Research. “Bluetooth implementing UWB could serve to limit interest in wireless USB, which also uses UWB as an air interface and targets a similar market, but is still very much unsettled with regard to software and authentication.”

The other concern by analysts like Benjamin is that UWB comes with a lot of baggage in the form of competing standards and legislative issues.

The Intel-backed WiMedia Alliance is currently at odds with the Freescale/Motorola-funded UWB Forum. The groups formed after a split took place in the IEEE 802.15.3a Task Group in early 2004 when the MultiBand OFDM Alliance Special Interest Group (MBOA-SIG) left, blaming Motorola for preventing MBOA from getting the 75 percent vote needed to become the standard. MBOA-SIG later joined the WiMedia Alliance, which added Microsoft to its ranks last week.

While the Federal Communications Commission gave its approval to the WiMedia Alliance earlier this year to sell UWB wireless products in the United States, the FCC has been concerned about handing out waivers for a technology that uses a wide variety of spectrum in short bursts.

“Theoretically, you could use UWB over long distances, which would interfere with other wireless bands and raise a red flag over at the FCC,” Benjamin said.

ABI Research has touted UWB as a disruptive technology, and projects that worldwide shipments of UWB-enabled devices by 2009 could be as high as 315 million units.

Both the Bluetooth SIG and the UWB camps acknowledged the fundamental issues of UWB will need to be resolved before bringing products to the global market. The groups said interference issues for Wireless LAN, WiMAX and new Cellular bands, in addition to the lack of a worldwide spectrum allocation for UWB, are on the agenda for discussion.

Still, the Bluetooth group said the partnership helps extend its long-term roadmap and keep up with consumer requests for high-speed data transfer, as well as demands for high-quality video on portable devices.

“I feel that it is the responsibility of the industry to recognize synergies and limit fragmentation as much as possible,” Michael Foley, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG, said in a statement. “Not only is it a requirement that worldwide regulation is achieved, but also that it is done in a way so co-existence with future mobile standards is realized.”

The UWB group said it would benefit from working with Bluetooth primarily because there are only a handful of unofficial UWB products on the market, but also because Bluetooth is a mature technology with hundreds of developers and brand acceptance.

UWB’s fast speed is accompanied by a very short distance (around 10 meters) compared to Wi-Fi, which is relatively long range in comparison but tops out at around 54Mbps under 802.11a or 11g.

UWB could be moot in a few years if the high-speed 802.11n specification currently being worked on turns out to be as popular as other Wi-Fi flavors are today. However, two camps in the IEEE 802.11 Task Group N are also campaigning to have their technology become the basis for that standard. Both sides say they want to avoid a UWB-style split.

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