MANHASSET, N.Y. Calling ultrawideband technology "the next frontier of wireless," Matthew Shoemake is leaving his post as chair of the nascent IEEE 802.11n high-rate wireless LAN task group to head the latest UWB startup, WiQuest.
Shoemake's move, reflecting his view that the standards group is bogged down, follows the lead of Jim Lansford, another longtime WLAN proponent. Lansford jumped from his position as chief technology officer at Mobilian Corp. to take the same post at Time Domain UWB spinoff Alereon Inc. Mobilian specialized in wireless LAN and Bluetooth coexistence, and Lansford jumped just as Intel was completiing its acquisition of the company.
Both WiQuest and Alereon are among a growing list of small startups to join the Multiband-OFDM Alliance (MBOA), which currently includes more than 50 companies.
The rising number of new entrants raises the possibility of a shakeout in the near future, especially given the involvement of larger players such as Intel, Texas Instruments, ST Microelectronics and Broadcom. "Some of these [UWB] techs are still in the development stage and UWB itself is not well defined," said Virginia Williams, director of engineering at the Home Networking Technology & Standards division of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). "There'll probably be a market shakeout."
Both Shoemake and Lansford are familiar with the startup business: Lansford through Mobilian while Shoemake was part of the Alantro Communications team that developed a high-rate WLAN chip set in late 1999. Alantro was subsequently acquired by TI for $300 million.
Shoemake's departure is especially significant because of his role within the 802.11 working group, first as chair of the IEEE 802.11g task group and more recently as chair of the 802.11n task group. As a TI employee and 802.11g chair, he refereed the contentious battle between TI and Intersil over whether PBCC or OFDM should be the modulation scheme of choice. However, as 802.11n's chair, he presided over the early stages of development of a WLAN implementation that is expected to reach rates of up to 200 Mbits/s. That will in many instances compete with UWB, which could reach rates as high as 480 Mbits/s, as specified by the IEEE task group.
"Being the WiQuest president, it didn't make sense to hang on to those [802.11] roles," said Shoemake, "so at the 802.11n meeting in Vancouver I stepped down as 802.11n chair." He left Texas Instruments in September and incorporated WiQuest two days later. "We came out of stealth mode about three weeks ago when we joined the MBOA," he said. The board of directors includes Paul Nikolich, overall chair of IEEE 802, and Chris Heegard, who worked with Shoemake at Alantro and TI.
Shoemake said the number of participants in the 802.11 working group - now over 500 - will slow the effort. "The group spent a year on the [project authorization request] and are going on another year trying to define the functional requirements and comparison criteria all before they've even sent out a call for proposals," he said. "Evaluating the proposals is the hard part, and I anticipate they'll have over 30."
Final definition of a standard may not come until mid- 2006, he predicted, with final ratification by the IEEE sometime in 2007.
Lansford said his move to UWB boiled down to power consumption and capacity. "UWB has a lot more overhead than .11n will ever have, plus [802.11n] will be a power hog as it'll probably employ MIMO techniques to get those high data rates over a 20-MHz channel." While range is an issue for UWB versus 802.11n, Lansford said a meshing scheme will solve the issue for UWB.
On WiQuest's chances for success in the crowded UWB market, Shoemake said he is relying on his team's OFDM expertise. "We have a lot of OFDM experts, so when the [MBOA] standard moved toward OFDM it was a very good fit for us," he said. "Right now we're a fables semiconductor company and are focused on developing a low-power, low-cost implementation."