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Bluetooth SIG backs Wi-Fi as fast WPAN choices proliferate

Turns to 802.11n

Motorola, Phiar and 60GHz

Meanwhile, other high speed, low power options are starting to emerge. As well as pioneering work from SiBeam, IBM, Toshiba and others in 60GHz radios, other start-ups like NewLans are innovating in this area, where the IEEE is to commence a standards process for personal area networks next year.

Now Motorola has joined the race, having failed to dominate UWB with the technology, DS-UWB, that it created when it still owned Freescale. Motorola Labs has a joint development agreement with Colorado-based Phiar, and the partners have succeeded in using metal insulator electronics instead of semiconductors for 60GHz WPAN devices.

Motorola says its semiconductor-free radio will be a direct challenge to the products under development by IBM, which will use its silicon germanium BiCMOS radios. Metal insulator electronics are low cost and can be fabricated on standard CMOS lines on top of ultra-cheap plastic substrates. Motorola also said the prototype Phiar-based devices have higher performance than their benchmark devices, and conform to the preliminary specifications laid down by the IEEE's 802.15.3c 60GHz standards working group.

Other companies developing 60GHz WPAN chipsets include the WirelessHD consortium (LG Electronics, Matsushita/Panasonic, NEC, Samsung, SiBeam, Sony and Toshiba); STMicro; Bridgeway Systems and TeraBeam.

Other approaches to fast Wpans

Alternative approaches come from specialists like Amimon and Radiospire. The former uses a souped-up variant of 802.11n to provide a wireless high definition interface for HDTV, running at 1.5Gbps. About 80 per cent of the Amimon system is based on core 802.11n technologies— a 5GHz radio with OFDM modulation and a 4x5 MIMO antenna array. The chips will initially be 50-100 per cent more expensive than standard 802.11n chipsets, but could come down to the same price levels within two to three years, the company claims. It says a pair of baseband and RF chips will consume less than 5W and cost less than $50 from day one.

Amimon uses an approach it calls joint source-channel coding to squeeze faster data rates out of 802.11n technologies which typically deliver 100-500Mbps. Using a 20MHz channel, the system can deliver 1.5Gbps, and in markets where channel bonding is allowed, the speed can be increased to 3Gbps in a 40MHz channel for HDTV resolutions of 1080 progressive scan.

Radiospire uses tweaked versions of WiMAX and Wi-Fi. Its chips operate in the 3.1GHz-4.8GHz range to avoid interference with 802.11. Radiospire claims to retain wired image quality with its HDMI chipset, which enables wireless HDTV connectivity without compressing the video signal. The technology supports 720p, 1080i and 1080p HDTV formats with industry standard HDCP encryption and throughput is up to 3Gbps for 1080p formats. Its chipset consists of a SiGe RF transceiver chip, ADC/DAC, and a CMOS baseband device.

Most of these individual players will need to attract the attention of large OEMs or standards bodies to survive. They will no doubt be targeting the IEEE's 802.11 Very High Throughput study group, which is looking at Gigabit Wi-Fi and has heard presentations from AT&T, Intel, Motorola, Nokia and start-up Wilocity, among others, and is likely to launch a formal standards effort as early as January.

One presentation focused on building 3-gGbps products in the 5GHz band that could be used in wireless links to monitors, projectors and video cameras, markets that are targeted by UWB.

Some Wi-Fi enthusiasts are also starting to lobby regulators on plans for very high frequency bands, notably 275GHz to 1THz. AT&T has criticised European Union plans to exclude Wi-Fi from such bands. "The best terahertz spectrum is being carved up among science, satellite and amateur radio interests. The giveaway of this precious spectrum is unexpected, capricious and irreconcilable with the evolution of future broadband wireless networks," David Britz of AT&T said in his presentation to the IEEE study group. Phiar and other start-ups are already working on terahertz receivers.

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As well as WiMedia UWB, and Wi-Fi, the Bluetooth SIG decided in June to support the Nokia personal area networking technology Wibree. As with its other choices, this was no doubt partly to ensure that Bluetooth works with its potential challengers rather than being attacked by them, but Wibree does add significantly to Bluetooth’s options in very low power applications.

Wibree was developed by Nokia six years ago and launched into the market a year ago. Although there were fears it would be presented as a vendor controlled alternative to Bluetooth, it works better as a complement, since it addresses devices with extremely low power capacity such as watches and heart rate monitors, and can allow them to compete with other devices such as Bluetooth handsets.

Bluetooth is really too power hungry for such minute gadgets (it uses 10 times more power than Wibree), but a combination with higher powered cellphones could drive applications such as health monitoring for the elderly.

Wibree could also be integrated with UWB to boost its own data rates (currently no faster than Bluetooth's), strengthening Nokia's influence in the high potential UWB sector. Nokia contributed to the UWB platform backed by Intel and Texas Instruments, which is expected to be the basis of next generation WirelessUSB, Bluetooth and IP specification, but integrating this with its own MAC could strengthen the burgeoning Intel-Nokia axis, focused on dominating the new breed of mobile and wireless devices.

Wibree shares many of the characteristics of Bluetooth, with a range of 30 feet, 1Mbps data rates and operating in the 2.4GHz license exempt band. Like the older system, it is based on variable length packets that deliver low data rates. Early backers included Broadcom, Bluetooth chip leader CSR, Epson and Nordic Semiconductor.

Nokia says that since Wibree shares much of the same underlying technology with Bluetooth it will be easy and cost-effective for manufacturers to design dual-mode chips.

The SIG said in a statement: "Wibree consists of a small extension to a standard Bluetooth radio. As such, Wibree has the potential to enhance Bluetooth use cases in the phone by bringing sensor [network] type devices into the fold."

This hints at a long held ambition of the Bluetooth community - to extend its reach into the emerging market for automation and other networks based on tiny sensors. To date, the most hopeful standard to dominate this space has been Zigbee, which may also look to a UWB-based next generation.

Helping Bluetooth address such potentially lucrative new sectors will be one of the key incentives that Nokia can bring to encourage the SIG and the existing community of vendors to support its technology. It may also be an area of possible cooperation with Intel, which has talked about ultra-low power sensors and putting wireless connections "into a Band-Aid".

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