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Industry News

Motorola Versus the Rest of the World: the Ultrawideband Battle

May 26, 2004
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According to ABI Research, the possibility of obtaining consensus on a single ultrawideband (UWB) standard for wireless personal area networks (WPAN) has disappeared. There are two standards on the table, one proposed by Motorola and a couple of others, and the other proposed by nearly all the remaining industry heavyweights, including Intel, Texas Instruments, Philips, Microsoft, Fujitsu, NEC, Hewlett Packard, Infineon and STMicroelectronics.


This is not the first time a company singularly attempted to drive a technology against massive opposition. In the 1990s Qualcomm successfully achieved this with CDMA for digital cellular. Qualcomm won that battle and it is noteworthy to examine three significant parallels that may be drawn between these efforts:

  1. Qualcomm’s pioneers were not proposing an unknown or exotic technology — CDMA had been used by the military for close to forty years;
  2. The company relentlessly played up a few key benefits of CDMA over and over again until finally even the operators took notice; and
  3. Qualcomm did not have to worry about interoperating with systems other than their own.

Will the UWB camp with Motorola at its helm be able to pull off a similar feat? They have the advantage that the technology on which their standard is based, direct sequence spread spectrum (DSSS), is a well-understood technology and has been used in other wireless areas for many years. They have been constantly claiming a couple of benefits, including Federal Communications Commission (FCC) interference compliance under any and all interpretations and a significant time-to-market advantage over competition. But what about the last point: will the UWB solution for a WPAN have to interoperate with all other WPAN networks?

It is one thing to win the standard battle, but it is another thing to win the customer war. Other questions remain: Would an OEM choose the DSSS solution even at the expense of losing interoperability? Is it possible that an OEM may decide to differentiate its product by offering a 100 Mbit multimedia data rate before any of its competition by using the DSSS UWB?

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