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Intel broadens ultrawideband role

The chipmaker forms a group to promote the technology to fill in the wireless gaps between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and "kill the wires."

SAN FRANCISCO--Chipmaker Intel is taking an active role in the development of ultrawideband technology as it looks to fill in the wireless gaps between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company announced Wednesday at the Intel Developer Conference here, that it and other members of the MultiBand OFDM Alliance (MBOA) have formed a special interest group to develop and promote their version of the wireless networking technology. The company also said it is joining a group to promote a wireless USB (universal serial bus) specification.

Ultrawideband technology is meant to allow a slew of PC and consumer electronics devices to communicate wirelessly with one another. The goal of Intel and its partners is to create a common language for the devices to communicate.

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"We want to define radio-sharing rules," said Pat Gelsinger, Intel's chief technology officer. "USB moved the rats nest (the jumble of cables that connect devices such as digital camcorders and cameras to PCs) from the back of the PC to the front of the PC. We want to kill the wires."

Members of the MBOA are working separately from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) to develop an ultrawideband specification. Once it is completed in May, it will be presented to the IEEE for standards consideration. The group took action because bickering within the IEEE was delaying the establishment of an industry standard. For a standard to be completed, 75 percent of the companies working on the standard must approve it.

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Paul Reddy, wireless WAN architecture manager, Intel
Ultrawideband's growth is endangered by a fractious technology fight. The proposal favored among IEEE members is from the MBOA, but a competing standard from Motorola and ExtremeSpectrum is winning enough votes to derail approval of the MBOA's technology. The two sparring factions are slowing down the creation and completion of a standard.

Texas Instruments and Intel on Wednesday said they joined the WiMedia Alliance, one of several competing industry groups pushing ultrawideband. Both companies will serve on the board of directors. The industry group is developing interoperability specifications and certification programs.

Intel's Gelsinger stressed that ultrawideband is not meant to be a competitor to already established wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Ultrawideband allows higher amounts of data to be wirelessly transferred than Bluetooth but has a smaller range than Wi-Fi.

Ultrawideband creates a wireless network with a range of up to 10 meters and transfer rates up to 480 megabits per second. That's 100 times faster than Bluetooth. Wi-Fi networks have a range of up to 100 meters.

The MBOA also plans to certify ultrawideband-based products for interoperability once they are available. Products that use the wireless networking technology will be available in 2005, according to Gelsinger.

On top of the ultrawideband foundation will be various wireless interface technologies, such as wireless USB and wireless 1394, so devices with USB and 1394 built in can connect, then send and receive data.

Ultrawideband could support Bluetooth, Gelsinger said, but even further down the road, it could ultimately replace Bluetooth.

CNET's Ben Charny contributed to this report.