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Motorola, TI Duel Over UWB Standards

Motorola and Texas Instruments are moving ahead with plans to commercialize competing versions of ultrawideband (UWB) technology for home-entertainment and PC applications.

The competing UWB technologies are low-power, high-bandwidth pipes that will initially be deployed as cable replacements in single-room home-theater systems and two-room distributed-A/V systems that distribute audio and video between adjacent rooms, the companies said. Both technologies are said to support up to three simultaneous HDTV streams.

UWB technology would also replace cables between TVs and digital video cameras, and in a PC’s personal area network (PAN), the technology could quickly transfer large amounts of data from PCs to handheld devices. A two-hour MPEG-4 movie, for example, could be transferred from a PC to future portable media players in five seconds to 10 seconds at a distance of one or two meters, said Martin Rofheart, director of Motorola’s UWB operation.

Products incorporating Motorola’s Direct Sequence UWB (DS-UWB) technology and the company’s second-generation UWB chipset will be available sometime this year in high-definition (HD) set-top boxes, flat-panel HDTV displays and other types of HD displays from multiple consumer electronics suppliers, Rofheart contends. He didn’t say whether a set-top box with HD-PVR is in the offing this year.

“We have a significant time-to-market advantage,” Rofheart said, referring to a rival technology developed by Texas Instruments.

For its part, the TI-led Multiband OFDM Alliance (see related story) plans to formalize its competing MB-OFDM (multiband orthogonal frequency division multiplexing) standard in May ( Engineering samples of chips using the TI-based standard are targeted for fourth-quarter shipment, followed by production silicon in the second quarter of 2005, said Steve Turner, UWB business development manager in TI’s CE connectivity group.

Motorola and TI have proposed their standards for ratification as IEEE’s UWB-based 802.15.3a personal area network (PAN) standard. The organization’s 802.12.3a working group, however, hasn’t been able to muster the 75 percent support among working group members to adopt a standard, Turner explained. TI’s proposal regularly gets about 60 percent support, both companies admitted.

Because of the deadlock, said Rofheart, “We are in a marketplace battle, not a standards battle.”

Both standards are said to meet or exceed requirements of the IEEE 802.15.3a standard. The IEEE requires, for example, low power consumption, security, quality of service for audio and video streaming, and a bit rate of at least 110Mbps at 10 meters and 200Mbps at four meters. Scalability to a maximum 480Mbps at closer range is an option.

In the marketplace, both camps are positioning their technologies as delivering what Rofheart called “freedom of component placement and mobility.” UWB, for example, makes it possible to place video sources in a closet or closed cabinet in a separate location away from an HD display. UWB would also reduce the number of visible wires.

Wireless repeaters and other approaches could be used to extend UWB’s range, replacing cables that must be installed to distribute multiple streams of audio, HD video, and control signals, the companies added. From Motorola, a third-generation chipset with an additional software layer for use in repeaters could be available sometime in 2005, Rofheart said.

Motorola’s current second-generation chipset already supports three simultaneous HDTV streams at close range. At January’s CES Samsung streamed three HDTV channels simultaneously using products equipped with engineering samples of Motorola’s UWB chips. Toshiba also demonstrated Motorola’s solution at CES.