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TI Partners With Standards Groups To Spread Its UWB Technology

Texas Instruments has forged alliances with a pair of industry groups to bring its proprietary ultrawideband (UWB) personal area network (PAN) technology to market in at least two guises: Wireless USB (WUSB) and Wireless 1394.

Either could be used for home-A/V and home-PC networking applications.

The company expects its radio (physical layer) technology, MB-OFDM (multiband orthogonal frequency division multiplexing), to appear in production silicon in the second half of 2006, with consumer product availability in 2007, said marketing manager Dusty Russell. One of the first implementations will likely be WUSB.

OFDM silicon samples could be available in the second half of 2005, with silicon demos appearing at CES 2006, the company said. Nonetheless, at the 2005 CES, TI expects multiple companies to demonstrate the OFDM technology without using chips.

Earlier this year, TI said it expected production silicon to ship in the second quarter of 2005, but the company attributed the year’s delay to a decision to develop a new media access controller (MAC) layer in consultation with other companies. The planned MAC will optimize power management for portable and mobile devices and enable devices to enter and leave wireless “piconets” without disrupting the network.

The MAC is being developed by the TI-led MultiBand OFDM Alliance (MBOA), which consists of more than 170 member companies that plan to promote the finalized technology.

MBOA is also working with the Wireless USB Promoters Group and the 1394 Trade Association to develop Wireless USB (WUSB) and Wireless 1394 connectors based on TI’s radio and MAC, which is expected to be finalized by year’s end, the company said.

Besides allowing for embedded wireless connectivity, the two standards would allow for wireless adapters that could plug into existing USB and 1394 ports.

The USB group has endorsed MBOA’s radio and MAC, and the 1394 Trade Association is working closely with the WiMedia Alliance and MBOA to define Wireless 1394 specifications, TI said.

The USB group, which expects to finalize its spec by the end of the year, is adding automatic device recognition, applications and the like to MBOA’s radio and MAC, explained Steve Turner, TI’s UWB business development manager.

WiMedia, which has endorsed the MBOA solution, will act as a certification body to ensure interoperability among MBOA-equipped products, including WUSB and Wireless 1394.

For proprietary non-alliance-based UWB technologies, production silicon could be available as early as late 2005, Russell said, followed by end-user products in 2006. Proprietary UWB technologies “have a nine- to 12-month head start,” added Russell, who contended these technologies would likely represent “niche plays.”

Whether proprietary or group-based, UWB transmits digital data at very high rates over a wide spectrum of frequency bands using very low power. UWB is ideally suited for short-range wireless communications, TI said. Potential wireless-PAN applications include data transfers between PCs, digital still cameras and PDAs and between TVs and digital video camcorders. A two-hour MPEG-4 movie, for example, could be transferred from a PC to future portable media players in five to 10 seconds at a distance of 1 or 2 meters.

UWB is also intended as a cable replacement in single-room home-theater systems between, for example, an on-wall plasma display and a set-top HD tuner/PVR. It could also be used in two-room distributed-A/V systems that distribute audio and video between adjacent rooms. TI’s implementation could support up to three simultaneous HDTV streams.

Wireless repeaters and other approaches could be used to extend UWB’s range throughout a house, replacing cables that must be installed to distribute multiple streams of audio, HD video and control signals to every room.

At January’s CES, TI said it expects multiple demonstrations of MBOA-standard devices, but not with silicon. The applications will include Wireless-USB with streaming video

The MBOA standard allows for seven data rates ranging from 55Mbps to 480Mbps, depending on distance. A maximum data rate of 480Mbps is achievable at 2 meters. At 10 meters, it’s a maximum 110 Mbps.

In 2002, the FCC allocated spectrum in the 3.1GHz to 10.6GHz band for unlicensed use of wireless UWB devices.