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Ultra Wideband Technology Holds Promise for Streaming

Of the many technologies that were showcased at the recent CES and Macworld shows, a few products in particular caught my eye: Bluetooth headphones, the new Mac Mini (a great potential streaming client or PVR in the making), Panasonic’s H.264 in-house streaming entertainment delivery proof of concept, and ultra wideband.

Ultra wideband, or UWB, is the recent name for a technology that has been pursued since the 1960s. UWB uses an extremely short-duration burst of radio frequency (RF) energy– typically a few tens of picoseconds (trillionths of a second) to a few nanoseconds (billionths of a second) in duration to send a small portion of data.

Since UWB waveforms are of such short duration, an added benefit that’s applicable to streaming is the fact that UWB can provide extremely high data-rate performance simultaneously for multiple users. Fixed-frequency or narrow-range transmissions such as 802.11b have the potential to interfere with each other, which effectively lowers the data rate (in 802.11b’s case, often by half). UWB, on the other hand, handles multiple simultaneous transmissions across a very wide band of frequencies and changes transmission frequencies thousands of times per second, avoiding interference between multiple users and—some claim—heightening security of the transmitted data.

One emerging-technology pavilion at CES hosted several early UWB leaders. Some of the companies, such as the aptly named Staccato Communications, have dubbed their UWB chipset as "Wireless USB" since the industry-standard specification set forth by the Multiband OFDM Alliance (MBOA) is capable of handling transmission speeds equivalent to USB 2.0 (480Mbps). Other companies, seeking to gain extra bandwidth, have extended transmission speeds beyond the specification and dubbed their chipsets as Wireless FireWire.

Focus Enhancements is one such company. They claim their chipset is capable transmitting 880Mbps at 8 meters, so the company needed a demonstration that could prove that point. The Focus booth at CES showcased the streaming of compressed HD video signals through a solid wall, allowing attendees to see a real-world environment for UWB.

According to a press release, "Focus Enhancements’ technology is designed to be seamlessly interoperable with the MBOA UWB Standard while, at the same time, extending performance in two critical areas—data rate and range. Current devices in the home that can clearly benefit from this extended performance are personal/digital video recorders, TVs, set-top boxes and DVD players."

Further interoperability testing is being addressed by many of MBOA’s 170 member companies. According to Stephen Wood, technology strategist for Intel R&D and a member of the MBOA-SIG (special interest group), "This industry convergence around a single technology helps to ensure seamless interoperability between future products and will fuel the creation of a robust and fast-growing market."

The CES demonstrations of UWB chipsets, some expected to be shipping in CMOS form by mid-year, were impressive and bode well for streaming multiple video signals. Coupled with the growing demand for DVRs, H.264, and wireless-equipped products like the Mac Mini that could easily be used as PVRs, UWB demonstrates promise that simultaneous multi-user streaming throughout a home or small office building is possible at a very enticing price point.

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