Research Firm Says Wi-Fi Will Go Bye-Bye

By Susan Kuchinskas

July 10, 2003

Emerging technology researchers say ultrawideband technology will eventually beat out 802.11 and make Bluetooth obsolete.

According to West Technology Research Solutions (WTRS), ultrawideband (UWB) will eventually beat out both the current Wi-Fi wireless networking standard and Bluetooth, while the open standard ZigBee protocol will enable every system in the house to talk to each other.

If those bold predictions from the Mountain View, Calif.-based research firm come true, then they promise that standards battles for wireless networking will continue into the next decade.

The firm said Ultrawideband, or UWB, would eventually eclipse the popular 802.11b, or Wi-Fi, networking protocol that is spreading in use across the country, helped by rollouts of wireless Internet access in Starbucks coffee houses and McDonald's Restaurants.

Another report, also released today, predicts that the Zigbee Protocol, which promotes the IEEE 802.15.4 standard for low-power wireless applications, will become ubiquitous and dominant in two-way low data-rate wireless applications for the home.

UWB works in what is sometimes called the "garage door spectrum," the unlicensed frequency of the spectrum commonly used for garage door openers, portable telephones and baby monitors. But its high speed data transit capabilities of 40 to 60 megabits per second, in some cases nearly ten times as fast as Wi-Fi, low power requirements, its ability to penetrate walls, and use GPRS information make UWB an attractive option for all kinds of handy machine-to-machine communications.

UWB's data throughput potential, and its ability to support a piconet, an ad hoc network of devices using the Bluetooth networking standard, means it has the potential to displace technologies used in local area networks, WTRS' Ultrawideband Market Report said. UWB's impact could be just as dramatic on technologies used in personal area networks and, eventually, even the CDMA (code division multiple access) cellular networking standard that is deployed by many U.S. cellular carriers, the report continued.

Already, consumer electronics manufacturers are experimenting with UWB, according to WTRS principle Kirsten West. "Streaming video to the television set wirelessly is the hot application they're working on right now," West said. UWB will also become the standard for the home gateway, the control center for automating everything from the security, heating and lighting systems to remote controlled appliances and home entertainment centers.

In office buildings, UWB is expected to replace 802.11b networking protocols because of its penetration abilities. "Walls, cubicles and people can all interfere with 802.11 technologies," West said. "UWB doesn't have this problem." She estimates that Wi-Fi companies will enjoy about a ten-year run of sales before UWB technologies begin to disrupt their products.

The report also said that a number of manufacturers plan to make UWB-enabled cell phones in order to provide the same kinds of short-range networking features and functions that Bluetooth can provide.

UWB has the potential to wipe out current contenders in wireless local area networks and -- eventually -- wireless wide area networks, according to West. Right now, today's UWB-enabled chips have a range of only around 30 feet, but that's due to a cap on the amount of power they can be transmit. West said that the Federal Communications Commission may change that cap, which would allow telcos to replace their CDMA cellular towers with the cheaper, more powerful UWB chips.

Meanwhile, West says in her ZigBee Market Report and Analysis that Zigbee could take over from the mess of non-standard transceivers now being used for home automation. The evolving open standard has a radio frequency range of 30 to 225 feet and uses very little power. "It won't become a household name, from a consumer's point of view, but it will be important for manufacturers because their products will work with others. You need the ability for connection among machines from various OEMs."

For example, a Whirlpool smart washer and a GE smart refrigerator will be able to communicate with the same home gateway. The report predicts that by 2006, annual shipments for ZigBee-based chipsets for home automation alone will exceed 46 million units and continue to grow rapidly.

It predicts that at least one small corner of this industry will not suffer disruptive change. Today's garage door openers will work just fine with the next generation of wireless networks.

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