Assessing WiMedia UWB

Oct. 23, 2008
It's time to take stock of Ultra-Wideband—what breakthroughs still lie ahead?

Now that WiMedia Ultra-Wideband (UWB) products have been in the market for a year, it’s time to assess its progress and its future. Like most new technologies, there has been more hype than most people would like and some glitches upon introduction. On the positive side, the glitches are being fixed, product support by manufacturers is broad, and applications enabled by UWB’s unique combination of capabilities are emerging.

TEETHING PROBLEMS? NOT ANYMORE When the first Wireless USB (WUSB) products rolled out, they delivered significantly lower throughput than was expected. This was due to the way the products were specified and the way they were implemented.

As with Wi-Fi and Ethernet, UWB was specified at a signaling rate, 480 Mbits/s, as signaling rate is the one value that gets closest to providing an apples-toapples comparison between technologies. In practice, the actual throughput users experience depends on many factors, including protocol overhead, number of users, RF environment, and application mix.

The delta between the 480-Mbit/s signaling rate and the 50- to 80-Mbit/s throughput of the first products disappointed some early adopters who did not understand that this throughput was anomalous. Manufacturers rushed to get UWB chips to market by plugging the UWB chip into an existing USB 2.0 port.

Unfortunately, this meant that data had to be translated from 2.0 to WUSB at the host and from WUSB back to 2.0 at the hub/peripheral. While this made for efficient time-to-market, it added substantial protocol overhead to the solution.

In contrast, when WUSB is implemented natively, the payload rate increases from 50 Mbits/s to approximately 260 Mbits/s (or 54% of the signaling rate). Some Internet Protocol (IP) and proprietary protocol implementations on UWB radios have exceeded 300 Mbits/s.

Long-term support for the technology is growing. Several major PC OEMs have begun to deploy WUSBbased products, including Dell, Lenovo, and Toshiba. Confidential data suggests that others are likely to follow in the near future.

UWB implementations are currently going through the traditional price decay curve that every new product experiences. Introductory prices for UWB chips were in the $15 range. Within two to three years of introduction, this is expected to fall to $4 or less. UWB is in the middle of this decay period now, and further adoption will occur as prices decrease.

APPLICATIONS WiMedia members, who specialize in triple-play communications, have raised the potential of using UWB radio designs transmitting over coax as a highspeed home network. Since this application can use existing WiMedia designs, it has been fairly straightforward to deploy the first products in this area.

While still very early, this could provide the necessary bandwidth for the evolving service provider networks in the home. Other emerging applications that can take advantage of UWB’s high bandwidth have also begun to garner attention.

With wireless docking, portable devices can connect to wired platforms. Imagine a handheld device docking with a set-top box to synch programming captured previously. Docking protocols will enable this content to be transferred quickly, with minimum customer interaction.

Platforms can be used to track user consumption of audio, video, and various services, allowing personalization of the services from the provider according to consumer preferences.

In augmented reality, the user can select a game that is projected onto the game board as a heads-up display tracks the player’s hands as the user moves pieces in the game. The 3D graphical effects will require several simultaneous video streams to and from the set-top box.

These and other functions are enabled by the hundreds of megabits of bandwidth offered by UWB.

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