The State of
February 18, 2009 – From the desk of Marty Colombatto, Staccato Communications CEO
A lot has been written over the past several months regarding the state of UWB. The flurry really started in October of last year with the news of WiQuest shutting its doors, and leading up to the recent news of TZero, another UWB start-up, running out of funding. If you do a Google news search on “UWB” the vast majority of the hits are on articles declaring “UWB is dead” or at least having one foot in the grave. Although it’s true that UWB has had its share of negative publicity recently, to conclude that “UWB is dead” is a gross misinterpretation of recent events and ignores the lessons of relevant history. I wanted to take a few moments to set the record straight on a few items pertaining to UWB that many have either been avoiding, ignoring or are just completely unaware. I have also sprinkled in a few predictions for 2009.
1. UWB is not dead
Far from it. The slow adoption of UWB has not been a demand issue, it has been a supply issue of available solutions. Early solutions introduced to the market suffered from performance issues, high-cost, and lack of worldwide compatibility. Not to mention the standards battles that had been raging for the first few years. These are all common growing pains for any nascent technology standard. Is it really any surprise that companies who were unable to “cross the chasm” with a product that meets the strict market demands went out of business? We are now seeing products, however, being introduced to the market that hit all of the marks in terms of performance, cost, size, power and worldwide operation. All of the barriers to entry have been removed. The game is just starting.
2. History will repeat itself
“Survival of the fittest” applies to the semiconductor industry in spades, and the recent news of WiQuest and TZero are just proof sources of this. The current economic environment may have accelerated some of this attrition, but it should not be surprising. If you look at any relevant technology, say Bluetooth or Wi-Fi for example, you will find common stories of failed start-ups, stalled technology, interop issues, etc… Few remember that it also took several years before these technologies took off. There tends to be a certain pattern recognition however, where the winner, although not necessarily first to market overall, was first to provide a solution that meets the requirements of the market (cost, size, power, performance, worldwide operation, etc.). Before all is said and done, there are likely to be additional casualties and further consolidation in the UWB space; not because UWB is dead or dying, but because this is a natural part of the evolution of any new technology.
3. Intel did not abandon UWB
Another well-publicized story related to UWB was the news of Intel closing its Ultrawideband Networking Operations (UNO). Even though the news broke around the time of WiQuest shutting down, Intel had actually shuttered its UNO operations several months earlier. It’s important to note that the UNO group was a start-up of sorts that was funded by Intel’s New Business Initiatives arm, not by a product group within Intel. When a business review was recently held, Intel decided that UWB (similar to their view on Bluetooth) is not considered a piece of their core business, and would prefer to “buy” the technology if they needed it in the future. Few remember that Intel also started and pre-maturely exited USB and Bluetooth businesses in similar fashion, two of the most prevalent connectivity technologies on the PC platform today. In the UWB space, Intel has also invested in Staccato and Wisair, having participated in a round of funding just this November for Staccato.
4. UWB will get a makeover this year
New developments in 2009 for UWB are sure to breathe new
life in the technology. First and foremost, companies like Staccato are now
providing Gen2 solutions that deliver on the promise of UWB as a high-speed,
low-power and low-cost wireless technology for personal area networks. The US,
5. 60GHz is not the savior
60GHz is arguably the darling of the industry press these days. Some have even touted it as a “UWB-killer”. To those who see it as the savior for wireless connectivity, I would urge caution and reflect on history. Complex wireless communication technologies always take longer than we expect to incubate, and even longer to mature. And although I must admit that the technology demonstrations are impressive in transmitting uncompressed high definition video content, they are just that, “demonstrations.” It is a viable and compelling technology, but still is a few years away. It’s basically at the point where UWB was three to four years ago when the standardization effort was still a bit ad hoc and in its infancy. To believe that 60GHz is ready today and will deploy in any meaningful volume this year or even next is a real stretch of the imagination. To believe that it will find its way into mobile devices is a true leap of faith.
6. Wi-Fi Wireless PAN will not work
Wi-Fi as a Wireless Personal Area Network (WPAN) technology is completely fraught with issues, including interference and usage model limitations. These are issues that are not associated with UWB. Now if we take a head-to-head technology comparison, UWB is five times faster than Wi-Fi, 10 times more power efficient and has superior user density (critical for WPAN). UWB was architected for Wireless PAN from the ground up, while Wi-Fi was not. It has been reported that the Bluetooth SIG will prioritize Wi-Fi for the initial release of the high-speed specification. This is not surprising, given that the majority of vendors in Bluetooth also have Wi-Fi and only a couple have UWB. I believe that when UWB is “viewed” as more mature by the Bluetooth SIG however, it will be a no-brainer to adopt it. There’s certainly more to come this year, stay tuned.
7. The world needs UWB
If you read between the lines, most of the articles declaring UWB dead still admit that the “promise of UWB was to provide an inexpensive, low-power, and non-interfering method of building small ecosystems of peripherals and mobile devices”. We believe that the promise is met, today. Several trends in consumer electronics point to a need for UWB technology. Smaller form factors with ever increasing computing power are changing the landscape of consumer electronics. Netbooks, MIDs, iPhones, etc… are all now a part of our standard vocabulary. As form factors shrink, the available real-estate for connectors becomes scarce. Being able to get content on and off these platforms wirelessly allows product designers to truly unleash the capabilities of these devices. UWB also provides the most power efficient means to stream and transfer high-definition media content, significantly saving battery life.
8. Staccato will emerge as the winner
Staccato today is delivering on the promise of UWB. Our 65nm Ripcord2 single-chip solution has the cost, power, size and performance attributes that the market has been waiting for. In addition, Ripcord2 supports worldwide operation, having been certified in Band Groups 1 (3.1-4.8GHz), 3 (6.3-7.9GHz) and 6 (7.4-9.0GHz). For our part, Staccato is taking advantage of the current environment by bolstering our team, our product offering, and our investor syndicate by merging with the likes of Artimi, and acquiring available assets and expertise such as the WiQuest Bangalore design center. We will continue to look to improve our company through similar means while focusing to deliver a best-in-class portfolio of UWB solutions. No one is better positioned to emerge as the winner in this space than Staccato.
CEO, Staccato Communications
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