Alereon Announces UWB Chipset

By Jeff Goldman

October 14, 2004

The first chip from the MBOA group sets the stage for a no-compromise fight between it and the DS-UWB group it has been trailing.

This week, Alereon announced that it had demonstrated the world's first 0.13-micron CMOS 480 Mbps-capable MultiBand OFDM ultrawideband (UWB) chipset. The silicon is the first to implement the MBOA SIG's UWB standard, moving that technology one step closer to commercialization.

Eric Broockman, Alereon's CEO, says the plan is to deliver the first radios to partners by the end of 2004, to demonstrate the solution at CES 2005, and then to have production products ready by the middle of the year. Commercial products will be released by next fall.

"It really depends upon how fast our customers can get them into the market," Broockman says.

The key market for Alereon's technology, Broockman says, is as a wireless replacement for USB cables. The Wireless USB Promoter Group, the formation of which was announced in February of this year, is basing its Wireless USB spec on the MBOA SIG's standard, not the competing DS-UWB standard.

By combining high speed with low power consumption, Broockman says the Alereon chip promises to offer a much more attractive solution for data transfer than other wireless technologies.

"If you could transfer some amount of data with one pair of AA batteries in the case of a UWB portable system, you'd need 10 sets of batteries in the case of an 802.11n system, and probably 15 for an 802.11a or 802.11g system," he says.

For consumer products like MP3 players and digital cameras, that can be a very attractive offering. "At these speeds and at these power levels, you'll be able to have an MP3 player that could transfer an entire song list in a couple of seconds," Broockman says. "Very unique applications get enabled by this."

This week's announcement is a significant boost for the MBOA SIG, which has been trailing behind the DS-UWB standard in getting products to market. Earlier this year, Freescale Semiconductor announced FCC approval of the first DS-UWB chipset.

"They have stated on many, many occasions that they're two years ahead of the competition," Broockman says. This announcement, he believes, changes the picture significantly. "With the silicon we have, we don't think it's going to take us two years to get this into full volume production," he says. "They're talking about early next year, and we're talking about fall of next year, so I would say that they probably have a seven-month lead over us -- but we're five times faster."

Over time, Broockman says, one of the standards will have to win out -- he doesn't think a compromise between the two is likely.

"Freescale's already selling their product in the marketplace, and they have no intention of changing that," he says. "Their idea of a compromise is, 'Accept what we're doing.' And given that we've come to market with silicon, and we expect some of our other startup compatriots to do the same shortly, there's not a big motivation for the MBOA companies to make the compromise, either."



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