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Factions face off in ultrawideband arena

A key meeting for the standardization of the wireless technology fails to reconcile the two main camps, as Intel accuses Motorola of breaking nondisclosure agreements.

A key meeting for the standardization of ultrawideband radio has failed to break an industry deadlock, leaving the majority group committed to developing their standard even without the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' approval.

The two main camps are the Multiband-OFDM Alliance (MBOA) and the Motorola and XtremeSpectrum group: Each claims to have a technology that conforms to U.S. regulations for the high-speed, low-power, wireless data ultrawideband (UWB) system.

UWB promises low-cost radio connectivity at speeds approaching 400 megabits per second and is widely seen as having immense potential for digital media distribution in homes and in portable devices.

According to reports from this week's Albuquerque, N.M., meeting of the IEEE's 802.15.3a group responsible for finalizing the standard, attempts to reconcile the two factions failed, with MBOA lead member Intel accusing Motorola of breaking nondisclosure agreements. A vote with a 75 percent majority was required to move onto the next stage in the standardization process, but the MBOA achieved only 58 percent.

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Ben Manny, Intel?s co-director of its Wireless Technology Development group, told ZDNet UK that "the MBOA is going to continue to develop our specification. We'd like to see the IEEE endorse it, but that?s not necessary. What?s important is that people can build products around it, so we?re working with 1394 (the FireWire consortium), the Digital Home Group and others." He added that he has "given up guessing what the other camp is doing. We don?t want to see a standards war, but it's conceivable that it will happen."

Although the claims and counterclaims made by both camps haven?t been published, it is known that differences of opinion center on the potential for the standard to cause interference with other radio users, on the cost and complexity of the chips required to implement the standard and on issues such as power consumption.

Manny admitted that in some circumstances the MBOA proposal could generate more interference than could the alternative, but he said that this only happened in extremely limited cases that were unlikely to raise practical problems. "We?re committed to the spirit as well as the letter of the FCC approval."

Analysts are concerned about the implications of MBOA and the Motorola and XtremeSpectrum group pursuing their own individual UWB standards. Research group Parks Associates warned in September that UWB could lose the opportunity to become a mass-market wireless connectivity product unless the standards row was quickly resolved.

"The adoption of a widely accepted industry standard such as 802.15.3a is essential in matching UWB's market reality to its very high expectations," said Kurt Scherf, vice president of research at Parks Associates. "A universal standard is particularly critical among larger consumer electronics and PC vendors, who are seeking a wireless solution that meets their needs across platforms and requirements."

Representatives of Motorola and XtremeSpectrum could be not contacted.

Rupert Goodwins of ZDNet UK reported from London.