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No IEEE Standard, So What Now?
by Peter Meade, UWB Insider – December 18, 2003
Is the inability of the IEEE to gain the needed 75 percent consensus on an
ultrawideband (UWB) standard actually “threatening” the industry? Are market
watchers truly “worried” that the standards stalemate will slow time to
market and then mass-market adoption?
These are some of the statements currently circulating in UWB circles. While
this may sound like blasphemy or at least biting the hand that feeds, you
just can’t believe everything you read. These days in the land of UWB, there
appears to be more questions than answers, more posturing than possibilities
and—oh, horrors—perhaps more fiction than fact.
Trying to filter the truth from hearsay and dreams from reality now requires
a pretty fine strainer. With the IEEE process stalled, at least for the
moment and most likely even after its January meeting in Vancouver, perhaps
another industry organization, such as the WiMedia Alliance or the 1394
Trade Association, will step forward to facilitate progress?
“If indeed the IEEE process is stuck,” said Glyn Roberts, president of the
WiMedia Alliance and manager of business research and development for
advanced systems technologies at STMicroelectronics, “The industry needs to
figure out a way to move forward.”
Acknowledging the (physical layer) “PHY is the key element,” he offered a
trio of possible scenarios for potential standards advancement. A special
interest group (SIG) could emerge to preside over the technology “from soup
to nuts, like what happened with Bluetooth, WiFi and Zigbee,” Roberts said.
With the aid of SIGs, all the aforementioned technologies ultimately did
learn to discipline themselves, he added.
Another possibility Roberts suggested is that the two leading proposals,
from Motorola and the MultiBand OFDM Alliance (MBOA), could exist as co-de
facto standards. While this might move the market forward, Roberts warns the
aftereffects may include market confusion and a sub-par user experience.
“I would first like to see us exhaust the IEEE process,” said Ben Manny,
co-director of wireless technology development for Intel Corp.’s research
and development efforts. “I would like to see the IEEE become an effective
standards body for wireless. I don’t want to see the IEEE approve both
approaches and let the market decide.”
The market should not decide the standard because there are bigger decisions
than what consumers want. “For example, UWB must co-exist with other
technologies, especially 802.11a,” Manny said. “This is because most of
UWB’s more widespread applications will include wireless local-area networks
(WLANs).” In the big picture, there is a lot more at stake than wirelessly
downloading video to a plasma TV—the most hyped UWB application.
UWB may start in the home, but surely it will migrate to more complex
application environments, such as the enterprise, in short order. One reason
Intel’s Manny said he remains an unwavering proponent of a multi-band
approach is its ability to provide scalable data rates is far superior to
Motorola’s single-band proposal. The flexibility that multiband exhibits
over single band is key, especially outside the U.S. where UWB may need to
operate in different spectrum.
“The stalemate is a blessing in disguise because the UWB industry is not
ready yet,” said Gary Smith Anderson, chairman, founder and chief scientist
at Uraxs Communications Inc., who has represented U.S. industry as a
non-sponsored delegate to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) on
UWB matters. “The ITU’s main concern is that there are lots of little
countries and they all use radios differently. This remains a big deal—even
with software radios. It can be difficult, even for a channelized system
like Multiband OFDM, to block out all the proper channels.”
According to Anderson, the UWB industry will be ready when it puts in the
extra time needed so the resulting standard is well thought out. “It’s not
in the best interest of the world to adopt a U.S.-based standard,” he said.
“Ultimately, a move like that could stymie progress because the rest of the
world may have other concerns or challenges when it comes to implementation.”
WiMedia: ’A Good Candidate’
So is the WiMedia Alliance the best avenue for progress due to the IEEE’s
gridock? “It’s a good candidate,” said WiMedia president Roberts, who added
that in all likelihood, the PHY would emerge from one of the two existing
There is the possibility that the WiMedia Alliance would get more deeply
involved and pick the PHY that best recites its mantra, which is ease of
use. While the differences between the two proposals leave each side in
serious disagreement, most of the combatants seem to agree that either side
achieving the required 75 percent of the vote in the IEEE process is a
daunting task. In contrast, the WiMedia Alliance’s voting procedure seems a
lot friendlier. Casting one vote per company may, at least in theory, help
the UWB industry gain consensus quicker.
But don’t expect the WiMedia Alliance to be the easy solution. “I don’t see
the WiMedia Alliance changing its mission, but perhaps we will expand our
scope,” said Mark Fidler, a member of the WiMedia Alliance’s MAC convergence
architecture group and a senior engineer scientist for Hewlett Packard’s
imaging and printing group. “We still expect a PHY out of the IEEE, but
without a major shift, I don’t see either proposal gaining the needed 75
As for the increased impact the 1394 Wireless Group may have on the
standards proceedings, the fact that chair Peter Johansson declined comment
on the subject speaks volumes. Group spokesman Dick Davies, however, did
offer some insight on the group’s future direction. “The 1394 TA will stay
out of the UWB PHY discussions,” he said. “Even though some of the Trade
Association’s member companies have considerable digital radio expertise,
the TA itself does not.”
This doesn’t mean the 1394 Wireless Group will sit idly. “The 1394 PAL
project for 802.15.3 underway in the 1394 Wireless Working Group will be
unaffected by the stalemate over UWB physical layer devices,” Davies added.
“We continue to make excellent progress on the draft version of the
standard, which will enable a true wireless 1394 implementation.”
So what advancements can be made to separate the aforementioned facts from
the fiction? Perhaps the answer lies in three words: testing, testing,
testing. OK, so that’s one word, but the repetition is for effect on the
cause. The only fair way to end the standoff once and for all is for both of
the leading proposals to undergo lots of rigorous head-to-head testing. This
is the most direct path for ending the claims that muddy the water regarding
interference and compliance while letting the truth rise to the top.
According to HP’s Fidler, if the MBOA proposal passes all the tests and
meets all the FCC guidelines, it would be hard to stop such a juggernaut
from gaining widespread acceptance. Because of already having the support
from many vendors in its corner, the MBOA specification comes out as the
best bet for providing interoperable solutions that best address market
needs. Even so, do not expect the ongoing war of words to end before it
first gets harsher.
Intel’s Manny re-emphasized that despite the recent verbal salvos the
standards struggle is not a grudge match between his company and Motorola,
even after Intel accused Motorola of not respecting mutual non-disclosure
agreements regarding their respective but opposing proposals.
According to Manny, each side had agreed to study the opposing side’s
performance issues. While the MBOA had decided it had nothing conclusive yet
to show from testing, Motorola disclosed its findings anyway—a violation.
“We trusted that we could work together,” Manny said. “Now the door is
closed. Now there is no way to work together for a common solution. We’re
Motorola also will have to rebound from what can be characterized as a
disappointing showing at the recent UWB Forum in Korea. At the event, with
many influential industry types in attendance, Motorola’s third-generation
development platform using second-generation chipsets and external field
programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) barely delivered video at a range of three
feet, far short of what has been expected all along.
Along with the showing in Korea, the adversity in Albuquerque actually has
strengthened the MBOA cause, Manny said. While work continues on developing
and refining the MBOA specification, he did not, however, express much
optimism for successful agreement at the IEEE gathering in Vancouver next
month. “There are lots of different agendas at work at the IEEE,” he said.
“I’d rather the IEEE process fostered good science instead of being
preoccupied with the political process.”
If indeed the process is hopelessly stalled in the IEEE, Uraxs’s Anderson
has a final suggestion: “Move to market what has been developed as long as
it adheres to the FCC’s Report & Order. Push it through the consumer market.
These products will evolve anyway as will the standard. We need to build on
the adoption of technology.”
Such steps forward need to be taken cautiously. After all, the consumer
market’s adoption of technology can resemble quicksand. Equally dangerous
may be determining the standards battle on the store shelves; as such a
scenario does not guarantee anyone will emerge a winner. ”Time to market, I
could care less,” said HP’s Fidler. “Time to pervasiveness. That's what it’s
all about. For UWB to achieve that and communicate with a multitude of
devices, there can be only one standard.”