Ultrawideband Groups Merge

By Eric Griffith

March 03, 2005

The MultiBand OFDM Alliance and WiMedia have joined forces in a move that could leave the other UWB factions (read: Motorola) without much hope.

The WiMedia Alliance, formed in 2002 to help push the then-forthcoming high-speed Ultrawideband (UWB) wireless standard, announced today that it is merging with the MultiBand OFDM Alliance Special Interest Group (MBOA-SIG).

The move is a simple one, intended to make things easier for an area of wireless already awash in acronyms and industry consortiums. WiMedia served essentially as a neutral party up to this point, akin to the Wi-Fi Alliance in 802.11 circles.

"The merge is the logical move, and we're excited to be working as one organization," said Stephen R. Wood of Intel , President of the WiMedia-MBOA, in a statement.

MBOA members include such companies as Intel, Alereon, Marvell, Sony, and many others. WiMedia brings in HP, Samsung, Texas Instruments and others—but there was tremendous overlap in membership, making the merger a natural move.

The new WiMedia-MBOA (though still formerly the WiMedia Alliance) says it will continue on its current path, which includes an "intellectual property review of the MBOA-SIG's physical (PHY) layer specification," plus a finalizing of the medium access control (MAC) layer spec by May or June of this year for use in Wireless USB, Wireless 1394 and Wireless IP. The PHY and MAC have to be agreed on by all members before products can be finalized.

The group also has to finish the WiMedia convergence architecture (WiMCA) and the WiMedia network protocol adaptation (WiNet) layer for interoperability. The merged group is "defining its certification and interoperability program" right now, according to a statement.

This is far from a complete consolidation of UWB groups. In fact, it puts the formerly neutral WiMedia at odds with the UWB Forum. The groups formed after a split took place in the IEEE 802.15.3a Task Group back in early 2004 when the MBOA left, blaming Motorola for preventing MBOA from getting the 75 percent vote needed to become the standard. UWB Forum members followed Motorola's and Freescale's plans for Direct Sequence-UWB (DS-UWB). Freescale UWB chips are already approved by the FCC , and are shipping to customers. (MBOA has applied for a waiver, and should hear next week whether its radio is FCC-compliant.)

The problem? It's unlikely that the MBOA and DS-UWB technologies will interoperate.

Last month, UWB Forum member Pulse~Link came up with what is essentially a third flavor of UWB, one they claim can deliver 1 Gbps speeds (compared to the 480 Mbps that MBOA will offer). That company has also previously demonstrated a chip running both UWB and Wi-Fi simultaneously. UWB's fast speed is accompanied by a very short distance (around 10 meters) compared to Wi-Fi, which is relatively long range in comparison but tops out at around 54Mbps under 802.11a or 11g.

UWB could be made moot in a few years if the high-speed 802.11n specification currently being worked on turns out to be as popular as other Wi-Fi flavors are today. However, two camps in the IEEE 802.11 Task Group N are also campaigning to have their technology become the basis for that standard. Both sides say they want to avoid a UWB-style split. The next vote for the 75 percent majority needed on 802.11n will be next month in Atlanta.



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