It's supposed to be official that UWB (ultra-wide band) wireless is approved, and a standard is being agreed. If you believe any such thing, you're horribly gullible; and the dispute inside the wideband club (MBOA) has reached the point where there are people saying: "It will never get sorted." And amongst those sceptics, I hear powerful voices from the Bluetooth SIG (special interest group).
The speculation is: "Why don't we make UWB a Bluetooth technology?"
The idea of UWB is simple enough: you generate very, very low power signals across a huge spectrum, and then count on clever decoding to get the data out - at broadband speeds over wireless. The signal is actually below the average background noise, and so (in theory) will generate no interference to any other spectrum user.
The problem is getting one version of UWB to talk to another version.
The original idea was that Bluetooth was a PAN or personal area network (the argument goes) and that UWB is now being touted as a very fast PAN. So what's the most important thing about a personal area network?
"In a word - compatibility," said one senior SIG member, unattributably. "The thing the SIG has been good at, is ensuring that you can't sell something as Bluetooth unless it is to SIG standards. If you buy a Bluetooth device, it will work with another Bluetooth device."
If the plan is to produce a genuine standard, with the IEEE or the ITU or the MBOA in charge, then there's no sign of agreement.
"You can produce a specification," said our source. "The trouble is, unless you organise proper plug-fests where people all bring their technology along and agree to make it all conform, you can't get anywhere near a commercial product."
That is what the SIG has excelled at, despite occasional impatient protests from members who wanted to move on fast. The new standard isn't released until all members have it nailed down, is the boast.
The problem with UWB isn't just the well known dispute between Intel's version of the world, and Motorola's view. There is, it seems, a looming battle between North America, and "the rest of the world" and (rightly or wrongly) there is a sense of grievance over the last war - which was over 802.11a vs Hiperlan.
"There are those in the ITU who feel they got mugged over Hiperlan, and the 5.8 GHz spectrum was given to 802.11a in spite of their feeling that they had a good argument. They were railroaded into accepting 11a, and abandoning Hiperlan, and they feel that this is just not going to happen again," said our source. "And a lot of them are people from regulators in Europe, who are now senior ITU officials, and they aren't going to roll over and just accept that the IEEE version of UWB is going to carry the day."
Equally, the chance that the IEEE will simply accept a decision from the ITU and MBOA seems remote.
The result will be that some people will go ahead with their own solutions, and other people will produce different, incompatible ones - or even, similar ones based on the same spec, but interpreting the spec in a different way. "Without the rigorous discipline of a SIG-enforced plug-fest, there won't be a commercially viable product," said the SIG source.
Will the Bluetooth SIG go for it? Unless a miracle occurs and people actually start putting the standard ahead of their own hopes of establishing a proprietary gold-mine, it may be the only way forward.
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