The High Spark of Low Power - Page 3

By Roy Mark

August 02, 2002

Whither 802.11x?
So what happens to 802.11x if ultra wideband technology becomes the de facto home networking standard?

"If you ask the (UWB) industry guys if ultra wideband is a potential threat to 802.11, they will all say absolutely not," a wireless analyst who asked not to be identified told "They are not looking to take on fights but, yes, UWB, because of its inherent advantage in streaming video, is a threat to 802.11."

Chris Fisher, vice president of marketing for XtremeSpectrum, disagrees. Prior to joining XtremeSpectrum, Fisher worked for Radiata, a developer of IEEE 802.11a technology that was acquired by Cisco Systems in 2001.

"802.11a is going to be hugely successful for data networking, but it was never designed to support video streaming," Fisher said.

802.11a carries a data transfer rate of 54 Mbps and can reach roughly twice that speed using proprietary 'turbo' architectures. In theory, 802.11a has a hypothetically greater range than UWB. However, as an Ethernet derivative designed as a packet based data networking protocol, it is unsuitable for intensive multi-media applications since it depends on data packets arriving in order and in time.

"Our customer base (consumer electronics manufacturers) made their own internal evaluations. They looked at 802.11 and Bluetooth and decided they were not adequate for the transmission of wire-like video," said Fisher, who sees a future for 802.11x in demanding enterprise or public access markets.

Another fundamental flaw in 802.11a technology is that it's power consumption requirements of around 1.5 to 2 W makes it almost completely unsuitable for battery dependent devices like PDAs, and even many laptops with short battery lives.

And then there is the question of cost. Currently, consumer NIC cards for 802.11a are roughly $150 to $200, which could be too high for broad consumer adoption. XtremeSpectrum's chip set is approximately $20 per 100,000 units.

Further bolstering the hopes of both the nascent UWB industry and 802.11x supporters is a June market research report by InStat/MDR analyst Gemma Paulo predicting that UWB will gradually grow its marketshare in the home market, with the first UWB devices unveiled at next January's Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, followed by shipping products by Christmas season 2003.

According to Paulo these initial product shipments won't gain market momentum until 2004 and beyond, but Paulo is conservative about UWB's share of the total wireless home market, anticipating that UWB won't comprise more than 5 percent of the total shipments through 2006. Until that time, 802.11x should be the dominant home wireless technology.

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