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Wireless USB standard pledged by year's end

Decision may bring a world of wireless peripherals to market

The wireless replacement for USB, ultra wide-band (UWB), will be ready by late December and without the formal approval of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), a leading group promoting the revolutionary technology has promised.

The spec will be formally launched tomorrow, a move which finally puts UWB standardisation outside the IEEE's formal process, where it has been deadlocked for two years.

With wireless USB, all peripherals, such as printers, scanners, and other similar devices that connect now with a USB cable, could connect wirelessly.

"Is Bluetooth a standard? Is USB a standard?" asked Mark Bowles, vice president of marketing at Staccato Communications, explaining the need to go it alone. "They were both formed outside the IEEE. I question whether the IEEE is required for a standard."

Bowles is a leading light in the nascent Multi-Band OFDM Alliance special interest group (MBOA SIG). The group's formation was announced in September by the supporters of multiband OFDM technology, who complained that their standard proposal was blocked in the IEEE by a Motorola-based proposal called Freescale.

The MBOA SIG will today deliver a full physical layer (PHY) 1.0 specification to the group's 170 members. The technology is available under the "RAND" (reasonable and nondiscriminatory) terms required by a formal standard. All the contributors' RAND statements have been filed, according to Bowles. At present the cheapest way to get the specification will be to join the SIG, with memberships starting at $2000.

The group will then produce a media access control (MAC) layer specification by the end of December by a formal standard, but gets its formal launch with the publication of the specification for the physical layer of a UWB connection. Above the MAC layer, "real" networking protocols will be implemented on a protocol layer from the Wimedia group. A wireless USB specification is due before the end of 2004, along with TCP/IP protocols running directly on the MAC.

All this doesn't get them out of the regulatory mire, as the MBOA group is still waiting for confirmation that the standard actually complies with the FCC's regulations. These are simple in essence: UWB is allowed as long as its emissions fall below the noise level permitted from consumer electronics devices. However, the way in which those emissions are measured is at issue in a petition originally put in by MBOA's rivals, Motorola and XtremeSpectrum, which Bowles says was deliberately misleading.

"It is an easy issue to cloud," said Bowles. "They said we are frequency-hopping and we are not. They have twisted the meaning of frequency-hopping." Bowles expects the FCC to rule in favour of MBOA, within the next few months, and certainly before products start to ship.

MBOA-based chips should be available in volume by the middle of 2005, and in products that offer wireless USB by the end of 2005, he says.


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