Staccato CEO Marty Colombatto asserts that UWB technology will thrive, and offers predictions for 2009.
The current economic environment may have accelerated this attrition, which is not surprising. We've "seen this movie before" as there is a long history of technologies materializing in a very similar manner. If you look at any relevant technology, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi for example, you will find common stories of failed startups, stalled technology, interoperability issues. Few remember that it also took several years before these technologies advanced. There tends to be a certain pattern recognition, however, where the winner, although not necessarily first to market overall, was first to provide a solution that meets the requirements of the market (cost, size, power, performance, worldwide operation). The metric that I use for "winning" is an IPO'able plus-$1 billion company. In the Bluetooth market, among the two or three dozen startups, CSR emerged as the winner. For Wi-Fi, where there were even more players, Atheros was the winner. Although UWB has gone through similar growing pains, the underlying value of the technology still exists. Nothing has changed in that respect, except that the existing vendors now have solutions that deliver on that early promise. The claims made by observers about the imminent demise of UWB are not correct, and not unique. An article published by EE Times claimed "Bluetooth Is Dead." In fact, try a Google search on "Bluetooth and Dead," then "UWB and Dead". I didn't count all of the entries, but there were significantly more articles pertaining to the former than there was to the latter. I know that bad news and controversy sells, but the last time I checked, Bluetooth shipments now top 1 billion units per year. I would hardly call that dead. UWB is currently in a typical "hype curve" scenario that all technologies must go through. The "trough of disillusionment" has grown a bit deeper due to the economic backdrop, but I believe that the "slope of enlightenment" and "plateau of productivity" are within reach.
3. Intel did not abandon UWB
Another well-publicized UWB story was the news of Intel closing its Ultrawideband Networking Operations (UNO). Even though the news broke around the time of WiQuest shutting down, Intel had actually shuttered its UNO operations several months earlier. It's important to note that the UNO group was a startup of sorts that was funded by Intel's New Business Initiatives arm, not by a product group within Intel. When a business review was held, Intel decided that UWB (similar to its view of Bluetooth) is not considered part of their core business, and decided to "buy" the technology if they needed it. Few remember that Intel also started and prematurely exited USB and Bluetooth businesses in similar fashion, two of the most prevalent connectivity technologies on the PC platform today. The USB business was eventually sold off to Cypress Semiconductor, and the Bluetooth group closed down. This is typical of Intel for its non-core businesses. It drives technology during the incubation stages, but then allow outside vendors to take it over after it matures. In the UWB segment, Intel has also invested in Staccato and Wisair, having participated in a round of funding last November for Staccato. If UWB technology becomes important to Intel's core business, then look for them to make moves similar to those in the Wi-Fi market where they acquired Envara, an Israeli Wi-Fi startup where a significant portion of Intel's wireless chip set development still exists today.
4. UWB will get a makeover in 2009
New developments are sure to breathe new life into UWB technology. Companies like Staccato are providing next-generation solutions that deliver on the promise of UWB as a high-speed, low-power and low-cost wireless technology for personal area networks. In addition, these new solutions support a regulatory footprint that allows worldwide operation. The U.S., Japan, South Korea, the EU and, most recently, China have all approved UWB operations. The lack of approved spectrum had been a barrier to the adoption of the technology, but that barrier has now been removed. Another early barrier was the disappointing performance associated with some of the initial UWB products--delivering only about 25 percent on the true capability of the technology. This had more to do with Wireless USB protocol overhead to support backward compatibility than technology limitations. Consumers saw performance on the order of 50 Mb/s. Although this is still roughly 2 times faster than Wi-Fi and 50 times faster than Bluetooth, it fell well short of its wired USB counterpart. We are now seeing "native" implementations of Wireless USB products that can achieve greater than 200Mb/s throughput, and we expect this to improve further. Wireless USB, the more recognizable brand of UWB technology, will also get a makeover this year. The Wireless USB specification will move to 1.1, which among several incremental improvements will include worldwide operation and emphasis on high-performance solutions. We are delivering those solutions today, and now believe we have removed all of the barriers to mass adoption of the technology.
5. 60 GHz is not the savior
Sixty GHz is arguably the darling of the industry press these days. Some have even touted it as a "UWB killer".