Paving the Way for UWB
March 03, 2003
At a recent panel discussion at the Stanford Business School, industry leaders debated whether ultrawideband would be the next big thing or just another wireless technology.
The current success of 802.11 and other free spectrum wireless standards may pave the way for ultrawideband (UWB), according to Dino Vendetti, a venture capitalist with Bay Partners.
"Unlicensed spectrum has changed the whole playing field," said Vendetti. "802.11 was the first big wave; UWB is potentially the second."
There is certainly a great deal of enthusiasm around the technology, as evidenced by the turnout for a recent panel discussion at the Stanford Business School. Vendetti moderated the panel, which was sponsored by the MIT/Stanford Venture Laboratory.
"The interest level was as high as it's ever been," said Mark Bowles, the vice president of marketing and business development at Discrete Time, and a panelist at the event. "I had guys following me out to the parking lot [after the discussion]."
Vendetti said that the panelists, who also included Jim Meyer, vice president of business development for Time Domain, Martin Reynolds, vice president of Gartner Dataquest, and Martin Kuhn, vice president of Sony Strategic Venture Investment, agreed that "UWB is happening, it will be standardized, and it will take hold within the marketplace."
"The big question," Vendetti said, "is 'when?' "
While Bowles and Meyer believe that the 802.15 standard will be largely solidified this year, and that products will start shipping by the end of 2004, Martin Reynolds was a bit more cautious.
"I'm still figuring we won't see UWB apps in the market until 2005," he said. "Barring complete disaster, I think we'll see them in broad use by the end of the decade."
There wasn't much debate about where UWB fits into the wireless scheme, either. "The panelists agreed that UWB is really a PAN (personal area network) technology and as such isn't going to compete directly with 802.11," said Vendetti.
The technology will initially be used in high-bandwidth applications, Reynolds said, such as moving data from PCs to home electronics.
While the panelists agreed that UWB is making strides, they also admitted that there are still obstacles to be overcome in order for it to become ubiquitously available. The first step is to iron out the standard.
Since UWB is so tied into consumer electronics, it is crucial that the standard is implemented globally, Vendetti said. "You can't have a totally separate approach standardized in Japan and another in the United States."
Vendetti, whose firm has yet to invest in any UWB companies, said that now, the timing might be right. "I suspect that we will invest this year," he said.
"It's still arguably a little early, but there is a huge amount of momentum within the industry now. Companies are realizing that UWB will make all the gee-whiz video technologies we've been working on a reality."
Companies today are a little quicker to adopt the next hot technology because of the success of 802.11, Vendetti said. "There is a lot of energy around wireless technologies. 802.11 has shown that 'hey, this whole unlicensed spectrum thing actually works -- companies can make money on it.'"
The key question for UWB, he said, is whether all the factors are in place throughout the industry to support it. "A year ago I'd have said no. Today I say yes. I think this might be the right time."