Will there be UWB in 2007?

When I first interviewed Freescale about its plans for the wireless technology Ultra Wide Band (UWB) in early 2005, I believed it when the company said that the industry would likely ship its first UWB products by the end of that year. Most of us did. Now it’s the end of 2006 and a few companies are just starting to claim once again that they are beginning to ship actual products — and Freescale seems to have turned its attention to other issues.

The high-speed, short-range, low-power wireless technology — which is often touted as the wireless answer to consumer electronic’s cables, USB wires and even cell phones — has been a work-in-progress for years. I thought I’d learned my lesson, and swore off predicting the UWB market, but now we’re starting to hear the UWB rumblings again. UWB chips are being certified, products are being tested, companies are announcing devices ready for the market place, and UWB chip startups are raising money from eager VCs. Can we really start buying this stuff in 2007, or is this another hype cycle?

A few companies are saying they are imminently shipping wireless USB devices, which is the first form that UWB is taking in the market. Belkin has been getting a lot of ink about its cable-free USB Hub that offers transfer speeds up to 480 Mbps over 30 feet, including a spot in the New York Times this morning, and Popular Science earlier this year.

Belkin previously said that the device would be available mid-December, but it’s unclear if it’s currently being sold or where you can actually buy it. CNet reminds us that this is the device that Freescale was originally working on with Belkin, and that they showed off at the last CES. Belkin later ditched Freescale and is now using Wisair for this product.

Gefen also said that it will start selling its 4-port Wireless USB Extender device that connects via UWB to a USB dongle on a computer, starting in January. WiFi Networking News takes a hard look at that one, also based on Wisair silicon. When we’re at CES next month we’ll check out all the UWB demos and give more details on when or if these products will be available.

UWB chips and hardware are going through certification by the trade group the WiMedia Alliance, including hardware from chip firms Alereon, Realtek Semiconductor, Staccato Communications, Tzero Technologies, WiQuest and Wisair. Unstrung points out that UWB chips and products are getting more attention from the FCC too. Internationally the UWB got approval in Europe, and Korea’s SK Telecom says that it plans to work with Staccato for UWB in cell phones.

Then there’s the venture money landing in UWB chips again. Alereon and Artimi announced that they had raised venture money this month, WiQuest said it had raised $18 million in March, and Wisair raised $20 million in January.

Given that the UWB market is just starting to see products, and Freescale looks like it’s backing off, investors seem to be thinking that its a good time to get into the UWB silicon market. It could be, but then again the market has been ‘just around the corner’ for years. Let’s hope UWB turns the corner in 2007.

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