Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Bluetooth set to take over wireless from Wi-Fi

The IEEE has abandoned its effort to create a UWB standard, but has agreed on a draft for the next generation of WiFi, 802.11n. The conventional wisdom is that this week's events are great news for Wi-Fi, and a disaster for Ultra-Wide Band, UWB, and by association, Bluetooth. In fact, the exact opposite is likely to be the judgment of the future.

Who was surprised when the IEEE abandoned an attempt to define the ultra-wide band wireless standard? Amazingly, lots of people. "Why haven't you covered this? It's your area of expertise!" complained a reader. "Is it news?" I asked, astonished. Apparently, it was.

But it was only news if you weren't studying UWB. Insiders knew it was coming. It's been a horrible mess for more than three years now; politics, power groups, competing technologies which are completely incompatible, and confident statements by chief technology officers which have all proved to be cobblers. And I don't mean technical cobblers: I mean, nonsense in the field of commercial reality.

The technology is not a mystery any more. There are several ways of doing UWB; the trouble is, you can't make them all part of the same standard. And the reasons aren't simple, but if you want to simplify them a bit, you could say that there are issues of power, data speed, and carrier material - because UWB isn't just a wireless technology: it can be used down fibre, too.

Ultra-wide band wireless is close to being magic. It's the ultimate expression of technology advances in the last twenty years - which is to say, it's the exact opposite of how radio has worked ever since different wavebands started being allocated to individual transmitters. Those early radios tried to reach all around the world on one frequency, so it was very important not to have two transmitters on the same frequency. So the technology originally focused on getting the band narrower and narrower.


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