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Consensus builds for ultra wideband

An accord between Intel and TI takes the stage as standards creators meet to ponder a host of proposals for the wireless standard, which could rival Bluetooth and perhaps Wi-Fi.

A wireless technology called ultra wideband is apparently big enough to include both Intel and Texas Instruments.

Each of the two silicon powerhouses once planned to provide its own proposed ultra wideband (UWB) standards to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). But Intel has since merged its proposal with one from TI, the companies said this week.

"We are pursuing a policy of trying to take the best technical solution and advancing it," said Stephen Wood, Intel's strategic marketing manager for UWB. The new proposed standard, he adds, "allows us to establish much more reliable links and much better distances."

The IEEE's committee, which is charged with creating the UWB standard, is expected to take very significant steps this week toward choosing a winner among 23 different proposals, although a final decision isn't expected for several months. The winning technology behind the standard, which will bear the name 802.15.3a, will generate $1.39 billion in revenue by 2007, according to projections made by Allied Business Intelligence.

UWB technology is a cheaper, less power-hungry way to wirelessly connect devices at short range than Bluetooth, the most popular "personal area network" technology, which has been embraced by cell phone makers and creators of personal digital assistants, as well as by Microsoft and Apple Computer. UWB champions also say the technology is 100 times faster than Bluetooth, making it a better fit for home entertainment devices.

But detractors say the commercially untested technology could interfere with bandwidth neighbors, which include some versions of Wi-Fi, the powerhouse standard for wireless networking.

Once news of the new Intel-TI alignment began to spread, several other companies withdrew their proposals and joined the group. Some, like chipmaker Broadcom, seem to have dropped out of the competition entirely, TI business development manager Steve Turner said.

"We believe its really a positive indication of how the industry has received the Texas Instruments proposal," Turner said.

One of the main competitors left is XtremeSpectrum, a start-up that's still touting its own proposed UWB standards--which have the backing of Motorola. XtremeSprectrum is the first company to have shipped UWB chips to manufacturers.

"These are large companies that aren't necessarily developers of bleeding-edge stuff," XtremeSpectrum Vice President Chris Fisher said of the Intel-TI proposal. "Our perception is they are fearful they won't survive the process ultimately and need more strength."