Alliance to Publish UWB Standard

By Vikki Lipset

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If you can't beat 'em, form your own special interest group.

That's the tack that the Multiband-OFDM Alliance (MBOA) is taking, at least. The group, which is comprised of more than 50 companies including Texas Instruments, Intel and Samsung Electronics, announced Tuesday that it will establish a formal special interest group (SIG) to promote ultrawideband (UWB) technology.

Progress on a UWB standard within the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has essentially come to a standstill. The MBOA's proposal for the 802.15.3a standard has garnered the majority of the vote at the last several meetings, including one earlier this month in Vancouver, British Columbia, but can't muster the necessary 75% to move forward. MBOA members have accused Motorola, which backs a rival proposal based on direct sequence code division multiple access (DS-CDMA) technology, of trying to block the confirmation.

"They're trying to take a proprietary solution to market and attempting to block a standard," says Jeff Ross, executive vice president of Alereon, an MBOA member. "It's a game that everybody has figured out."

Both sides have said they will move forward independently of the IEEE. Motorola plans to start production on its UWB chipset (acquired from XtremeSpectrum) this quarter, and expects to see consumer electronics devices using its chip by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the MBOA says it will create an official SIG by the end of the first quarter, and will publish its 1.0 UWB standard in May. The group hopes to see products based on its technology by the second quarter of 2005.

This won't be the first time a group has circumvented the IEEE to attempt to establish an industry standard. Ross points to Bluetooth and USB as examples. "These things were all done in special interest groups outside and eventually ratified as an industry-wide standard."

The MBOA says it will continue to work inside the IEEE to push for its standard as well. "We're not abandoning the IEEE," insists Jason Ellis, manager of marketing and business development at MBOA member Staccato Communications. "At the right time, things in the IEEE will proceed again."

At a Tokyo press conference, the group said it would offer the MBOA specification to the IEEE "once the blockage is cleared," in the hopes that the IEEE would complete the spec and publish it as 802.15.3a.

If, however, "the IEEE isn't in a position to take it back," says Ellis, the MBOA would consider handing off the spec to another entity, such as the WiMedia Alliance, the group expected to eventually certify UWB products, much as the Wi-Fi Alliance does for 802.11 gear. The organization promises in its mission statement to "define, establish and support one or more specifications ... for wireless multimedia connectivity and ... provide a neutral forum for enhancement and augmentation of the standards."

The hope is that the WiMedia Alliance will eventually certify products based on the MBOA standard, with or without the IEEE stamp of approval. The MBOA already has a strong presence in WiMedia, and sources suggest that Intel and TI will soon join.

In the meantime, the MBOA says its new status as an SIG will allow it to formalize by-laws, membership rules and voting procedures, and to ensure zero-royalty cross-licensing terms. The move also lends some legitimacy to the group's specification, said Ellis. "Instead of it being a de facto standard it will be an industry standard."

MBOA-based silicon is expected to be available by the fourth quarter, with integrated modules to follow in the first quarter of 2005.