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Ultrawideband Heralds Zippier Wireless Connections
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PostPost subject: Ultrawideband Heralds Zippier Wireless Connections
Posted: Mon Oct 11, 2004 5:49 am
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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Think of it as Wi-Fi on steroids. On its way to U.S. living rooms and maybe even automobiles is a new type of high-speed wireless connection that promises downloaded data rates of up to 1 gigabit per second -- roughly 18.5 times the speed of Wi-Fi -- to personal computers and other devices.

This Ultrawideband technology, which could become available in the next two years, also allows the devices to send data upstream to a network at 480 megabits per second.

The idea is to make it possible to do things like stream high-definition television signals throughout the home, send video shot on a digital recorder live across the Internet, and even connect a digital music player to a car's stereo system -- all with a wireless connection.

Ultimately, Ultrawideband chipsets could be installed in any electronic device -- such as a PC, set-top box, camera or tablet PC -- to enable really high-speed data transmission.

Dating back to the 1960s, Ultrawideband was once a classified military technology whose earliest applications weren't so much in communications as in tracking stealth aircraft and the like, said Bruce Watkins, chief executive of Pulselink, a San Diego start-up focusing on the platform.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission approved the technology for commercial use in February 2002. Since then, two competing camps have sprung up and are now working to establish a single standard.

Industry experts and analysts see Ultrawideband complementing both Wi-Fi, which now transmits data downstream at up to 54 megabits per second, and ultimately WiMax, a high-speed wireless technology that is in the early stages of development and works over much greater distances.

"(Ultrawideband is) very inexpensive, works across short ranges, but has very high performance," said analyst Craig Mathias of market research firm the Farpoint Group.

The technology has won support from big chip companies like Intel Corp., Texas Instruments Inc. and Motorola Inc. spinoff Freescale Semiconductor Inc., as well as smaller players like Pulselink, Israel's Wisair and San Diego-based Staccato Communications.

Electronics giants Sony Corp., Philips and Panasonic are also embracing the technology.

"There is an effort under way to standardize Ultrawideband," Mathias said. "And assuming that happens, we expect the market to be very big."

Aesthetically conscious consumers would appreciate the high-speed wireless streaming of HDTV signals through the home -- meaning, for example, no cables snaking up to the wall-mounted plasma TV.
The technology would also enable wireless USB 2.0 or FireWire connections, which transmit data at about 440 megabits per second.

This would allow consumers to download photos, music, video and other data-rich tasks without having to plug the devices into their personal computers.

"Wireless USB would be a key application," Mathias said.

As for streaming HDTV signals, Ultrawideband is better than Wi-Fi, whose underlying technology isn't really designed for sending video images.

"If you want to start streaming high-definition television signals from your set-top box to your plasma display, Wi-Fi's technological underpinnings are not well suited for that," Pulselink's Watkins said.

At the same time, he said, the rapid transmission rate of Ultrawideband could even allow consumers to, in real time, broadcast DVD-quality video from a camera to friends and family over the Internet.

"They can watch the video while I'm filming it," Watkins said.

Thanks to Moore's Law, the 1965 observation by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore that the number of transistors on a single chip doubles roughly every 18 months while production costs are halved, the technology is becoming cheaper.

"Our chief technology officer likes to say that the equipment used to take an entire room and cost millions of dollars," Watkins said, "but now you can do the same thing on a microprocessor that costs a few dollars."

Eventually, the industry will hammer out a standard, and consumers could expect to see Ultrawideband-enabled electronic devices in 2006, analysts said.

"The marketplace is as potentially exciting and high-growth as Wi-Fi," Mathias said. "But there are many twists and turns between now and then."

? Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.
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