The Battle for UWB Supremacy

Carl Weinschenk

The speed and efficiency by which data is transferred between computing devices and network elements is a vital issue for the future of convergence applications. Slow or choppy transfers will slow convergence growth, while fast and orderly transfers will enable the market to reach a level dictated solely by the popularity of the applications.


This In-Stat release deals with the evolution of interconnections for PCs and, presumably, other devices. Currently, there are several candidates. There are existing wired and Wi-Fi options. In the future, wireless ultrawideband (UWB) will, according to In-Stat, take control. Much of the battle, the study says, will be between WiMedia and Pulse~Link, which offer competing approaches to UWB connectivity.


The study concludes that mobile consumer electronics will drive the transition to wireless UWB, and that PCs will determine whether WiMedia or Pulse~Link will predominate. The firm suggests that wired and Wi-Fi connectivity will continue for several generations. Wi-Fi and UWB will complement each other.


Many of the questions at the frequently asked questions section of the WiMedia Alliance site deal with issues pertaining to the organization itself. However, there also is a lot of information about the technology. The piece defines WiMedia as a wireless personal-area network (WPAN) -- i.e., very short distance -- protocol capable of 480 or more Mbps operation. The protocol includes physical and media access control (PHY and MAC) specifications and the type of modulation, which is multiband orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (MB-OFDM).


There seems to be no easily locatable FAQ on Pulse~Link, but this release, which relates the news that the company won a spot among the Red Herring 100 for the spring, has a serviceable explanation in the boilerplate. The piece says the same CWave chipset delivers Gigabit data rates on coaxial cable and wireless systems.


It is important to note that prospective data rates in general are like the gas mileage claims of auto makers. They likely are based on fact -- to fib would give opponents a great talking point -- but achieved under perfect conditions that are not often replicated in real life.


This Washington Post review of D-Link's UWB DUB-9240 Wireless USB Kit and Iogear's Wireless USB chip shot is interesting for both its gushing treatment of wireless USB and the fact that Pulse~Link is not mentioned. Indeed, the piece doesn't even hint at the fact that there may be a battle for supremacy in the sector, one of the main points of the In-Stat study.


The key probably won't be throughput. Both technologies -- even allowing for the fudge factor -- will offer enough bandwidth for a vast majority of users. The winner may be the technology that is easiest to use. Says David Deans at Digital Lifescapes:

I believe that devices that employ UWB technology must be designed from the perspective of avoiding the mistakes made by the Wi-Fi enabled device pioneers. The UX and the UI is the essence of the product value proposition for mainstream users -- the need for total device usability is therefore paramount.

To clarify, UI is industry jargon for "user interface" and UX probably refers to "user experience." Wireless is inherently more user-friendly than wired. What remains to be seen is whether one version is easier. If they are equal, market forces such as pricing, marketing acumen, and strengths of partnerships will determine the winner.

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