Pre-CES is always a heady time in the wireless home video space, but never so much as this up-coming event, what with wireless LAN, 60 GHz, ultrawideband, standard and non-standard multimedia distribution schemes vying for attendees' attention--and dollars. So I sat down Asaf Avidan, VP of marketing for 'long-time' UWB chip provider, Wisair, to see where UWB stood--or if it even could find a toehold--in the fray.
At first, I was very skeptical. UWB for comms has had its problems, and the first UWB system I reviewed and tore down--back in early 2007-- was underwhelming, to say the least. Unfortunately for Asaf, that system was from Belkin and was based on Wisair's first commercial chips.
Add to the fire the accelerating series of announcements from around the wireless networking sphere, from 60-GHz options such as the WirelessHD group and the Wireless Gigabit Alliance (aka: WiGig), to IEEE 802.11n variants, and it's a tough slog for Wisair, or for anyone seeking oxygen in this rarefied atmosphere.
Just this week, ProVision Communications has gone public with its flavor of 802.11n-based wireless networking. Last week, Quantenna Communications announced its QHS600x reference design kit for full 4x4 MIMO for 802.11n and the WHDI Consortium completed its specification for wireless video over a 5 GHz variant of Wi-Fi based on technology from startup chip designer Amimon. Not to be left out, WiGig also last week gave us our first peek at its own 60-GHz spec, for data rates up to 7 Gbits/s.
So, when Avidan told me the demo he had could do 140 Mbits/s, point to point, I was left a little cold. Plus, you're pretty much on your own when it comes to what you get through walls. Wisair, understandably, won't even give you estimates on that. There are just too many variables that can play havoc on low-power, high-frequency signals. However, as we went through the interview and the demo (see video below), I could not help but think of that old adage: "A bird in the hand beats two in the bush."
As Avidan points out during our preliminary Q&A during the video demo, while WLAN-based networks have farther reach and can achieve high data rates, they have a hard time reaching the quality of service needed for high-quality video, and the improvements and standards efforts currently under way to meet those requirements could take years.
While I have always been a big fan of 60-GHz networks, given the massive swath of unlicensed bandwidth available, as well as the smaller antennas and front-end components needed because of the higher operating frequencies, Avidan was also quick to point out that higher frequencies translate to greater directionality, so you need more antennas for greater coverage using beamforming. Also, he added, SiBeam's design is currently way too power hungry, much more than originally postulated. Much of that, he said is due to the receiver-end processing required.
For more on Avidan's thoughts on the other wireless options, see the video below (approx 8 minutes).
Avidan may be right, so that leaves us with what Wisair is showing in the above video. While we may drool over what WHDI and WiGig et al are proposing out in the bushes, right now, the 'bird in the hand' is this really useful 140-Mbit/s link between a laptop and a display that can really simplify the home viewing experience and bring the full content offering of Hulu and the hundreds of other online sites--to our big screen. For approx $200. Not too bad, in my book. Two years from now, 60-GHz, WHDI or WiGig may be more viable and I'll give the $200 box to my kids.
Maybe UWB can live after all, if only as a stop-gap approach, though Avidan said Wisair is on the cusp of a new chip announcement next year. More on that when it comes out.