802.11n Seen Leapfrogging UWB

By Erin Joyce

July 02, 2004

ABI Research looks at the landscape on PAN players. Where should chipset makers place their bets?

Ultra wideband will be first to super-charge wireless personal area networks in homes with its blazing throughput speeds. But it won't last. One of Wi-Fi's latest flavors, 802.11n , will hop right over the protocol in the digitally networked home as the preferred method of shooting media from one device to another.

That's the latest consensus of tech research firm ABI, which said technologies for networking home entertainment equipment will be playing leapfrog with each other for dominance in consumers' homes over the next five years.

Phil Solis, ABI Research senior analyst, points out that although the official data transmission rate of the 802.11a and 802.11g wireless networking protocols is 54 Mbps , the actual throughput is only about half that, due to the communications overhead required.

His report, "Wi-Fi Home Entertainment Networks," identifies three candidates for wireless home entertainment networking: powerline networking, Wi-Fi (802.11x) and ultra wideband (UWB). He said the real contest will be between Wi-Fi and UWB, which will hopscotch over each other for dominance in the home.

Although the UWB standard will offer theoretical speeds up to 480 Mbps, the first generation of UWB chipsets won't hit store shelves until 2006 or 2007. And even then, the chipsets and hardware will only offer 100-200 Mbps , he said, which doesn't even take required overhead into account.

So where, or rather on which networking protocols, should device manufacturers and companies place their bets? Solis suggests they roll out products based on the most advanced standard, then switch out as another version moves up in use. ABI is laying odds that, ultimately, the 802.11n version of Wi-Fi will continue to expand in home use.

"Wi-Fi is here today. UWB is not," said Solis. Then there's the issue of two competing UWB working groups that were arguing over specifications (which they recently patched up). But the result could be a delay in getting a wider array of UWB products into the marketplace.

UWB will have its place in the home, however, he added, because it is better suited as a personal area network, with similar ranges and as Bluetooth . UWB will (eventually) end up being faster on data transfer from device to device compared to 802.11n. But on the other hand (and there's that leapfrogging again), he said 802.11n is scalable if you add another set of base band radios and antennas to 802.11n implementations.

"Wi-Fi will continue to work its way into home entertainment networking and will become entrenched," he said. "By the time UWB comes out -- or just a little later -- 802.11n solutions will start to appear."

That may spell trouble for UWB, because 802.11n will offer actual throughput of 100 Mbps, after wireless overhead is accounted for. That's quite enough throughput for multiple high-definition video streams. "UWB will wind up being faster in the end. And the chipsets will be cheaper," he added. "But if it's going to compete with Wi-Fi in home entertainment networking, it will probably be in non-real-time data transfer, such as moving video from a camera or camcorder to a PC, where distance is not an issue."

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