Small Businesses Already Struggling with UWB
July 27, 2006
In January, Belkin and Gefen announced cable-free USB products. They were inevitably delayed due to Freescale leaving ultrawideband behind -- a move that has hurt others.
In April of this year, Freescale left the UWB Forum, abandoning the ultrawideband (UWB) group that it had helped to create and not much has been heard from the company regarding UWB since then.
For a number of small businesses, thats created some significant challenges over the past few months.
Jim Houskeeper is CTO of nVision Industries, which makes helmet-mounted displays and virtual binoculars. All of the companys products currently use a wired connection to a video source, and Houskeeper says nVision frequently gets requests from customers for a wireless option.
Houskeeper says the companies kept saying solutions would be available in a matter of months.
But then the WiMedia Alliance began working with Ecma International to establish a global standard based on WiMedias version of UWB after which all parties involved agreed to dissolve the IEEEs UWB standards group. Then Freescale left the UWB Forum, after which they pushed back the anticipated arrival of their UWB silicon to 2007 at the earliest, if ever.
For nVision, that delay has hit hard the company had planned its schedule around a conservative expectation that it would have a wireless solution by the end of the year. Were a relatively small company, and this puts us in an even more difficult position in that were not talking about quantities of 10,000 or 100,000 units, Houskeeper says. As a small guy, were pretty low on the food chain.
The Wrong Horse
ABI Research analyst Stuart Carlaw says Freescale seems to have moved on from UWB. Theyve lost their key advantage, which was time to market, he says. If they could have had the silicon out there and products on the market with a good six-month lead on WiMedia, they would have had a good chance of making a success out of it. Unfortunately, the WiMedia group have caught up, and now theyre actively espousing their product wins so my feeling is that were not going to see a great deal from Freescale.
Belkin and Gefen, Carlaw says, simply bet on the wrong horse. Freescales Cable-Free USB was a proprietary technology in the fact that it didnt have any standards-body backing and Wireless USB from the WiMedia Alliance has backing from the USB-IF, he says. So the guys like Belkin and Gefen that were making these products that they announced at CES, they were actively having to consider, shortly after that, a standards body that was ratifying Wireless USB as a certified product.
Belkin spokesperson Melody Chalaban confirms that her company chose Freescale because of their apparent time-to-market advantage.
At the time when the technology was first introduced, Freescale was the UWB leader, and other chipset manufacturers product roadmaps were still in development, Chalaban says. We chose the Freescale initially because they were further along in the technology development process than their competitors.
Chalaban acknowledges that Freescales change of plans affected her companys schedule, pushing back Belkins anticipated launch date from July to September at which point, she says, Belkin will use another chipset option that would support Certified Wireless USB. The chipset we ended up choosing (which is not public information yet) is a WiMedia solution that offers better overall performance.
A Gefen spokesperson offered essentially the same response, saying that Gefen is still making the product; in fact, its in its final stages, but is using different internal components than the Freescale.
Freescale had no comment by the time this story was posted.
Waiting to Materialize
Looking ahead, Carlaw says the UWB market as a whole isnt necessarily hurt just the unfortunate companies that chose to follow Freescales path. There are more than enough companies that chose to work with WiMedia, he says, to pick up the slack.
InVision anticipates two waves of UWB silicon implementation the first from prominent WiMedia startups WiQuest, Wisair, Alereon and Staccato, and the second wave from bigger players that will enter once they get a better sense of whats happening in the market.
Carlaw has already spoken with Wisair about their solution but hes learned the hard way not to get his hopes up.
Theyve said in about a month or so theyre going to have an announcement with some major players about Wireless USB, using their chipset, Carlaw says. But again, we keep on hearing all these wonderful stories, we hear about things being demonstrated at trade shows and so forth, and we get excited about it yet it doesnt really seem to materialize.