SAN JOSE, Calif. Startup Tzero Technologies (Santa Clara, Calif.) hopes 2009 will be the year ultrawideband establishes a foothold. The company has sketched out plans for a new mobile chip that is the latest piece of its two-pronged approach to the market.
Tzero plans to sample by June a single UWB chip that consumes less than 1W and is aimed at mobile devices. It supports the broad range of so-called Band Groups 1-6 needed to comply with spectrum rules in different countries and delivers TCP-level throughput of about 100 Mbits/s or greater over distances of less than 30 meters.
The chip should be in production by the end of the year at prices trending toward $5, a price OEMs have set as a watermark for adoption. Tzero will support WiMedia protocols including the planned Bluetooth 3.0 protocol for UWB.
A Bluetooth SIG spokeswoman, however, noted there is no planned release date for that protocol. The Bluetooth group is focused on releasing its protocol for Wi-Fi nets this summer, with UWB support on the back burner given the nascent state of the UWB market.
One protocol Tzero will not be backing is wireless USB. In early implementations, the wireless USB protocol dragged down performance to less than 30 Mbits/s, in part due to use of non-native devices that required translation to and from the wired USB protocol.
"From the beginning I though wireless USB was a bad idea," said Rajeev Krishnamoorthy, Tzero founder who returned as chief executive in late 2007 after a company reorg. Wireless USB "competes with Wi-Fi as another data networking transport," he added.
The new Tzero chip will compete with the similar Ripcord2 chip announced by Staccato Communications in September. However, Ripcord2 will support wireless USB, an Intel-led initiative.
It's been a tough year for UWB. Startups Focus Enhancements and WiQuest folded in the fall, and Intel said it ceased development of an internal UWB chip in favor of investing in startups such as Staccato. In November, Staccato merged with another UWB startup, Artimi.
The technology has faced many hurdles, including lack of spectrum allocation in some countries. China's regulators, for example, formally announced Friday (Jan. 29) it has approved UWB for use.
To date, many UWB products have shown relatively low performance, high power consumption and cost and lack of integration. The next generation represented by Ripcord2 and the new Tzero chip appear to be hitting all the right specs.
The only question remaining will be whether the companies can deliver the chips and if, in the current recession, OEMs see value in adding the technology to their products. Timing will be key for the startups.
For its part, Tzero raised about $18 million in venture capital from its investors in March 2008. Krishnamoorthy hopes that lasts until revenue from volume orders kick in, probably next year.
"I don't think there's any doubt the market for wireless video is there and there are promising technologies to do it," Krishnamoorthy said. "Early 2010 is what we are shooting for, although we are expecting reasonable revenues this year with fall product releases from OEMs."