Ultra-wideband Near Death as WiQuest Shuts Down

While I was out trick-or-treating with my daughter, EETimes reported that Ultra-wideband startup WiQuest had shut its doors. This is a sad day for the more than 120 employees of the Allen, Texas chipmaker, and unfortunate for the venture backers who put at least $54 million in the wireless networking company, but it’s something we should prepare to see more of as the wave of startups backing that technology finally run out of money and compelling arguments for UWB. If the supposed No. 1 vendor in a space can’t hack it, I have little faith in the others.

Not that UWB couldn’t have been a good personal wireless networking technology, with its promise of 480 Mbps data rates delivered over a few feet, but it was stymied by a standards war that dragged on forever, causing products to hit the market late. Those products offered the ability to connect computer peripherals wirelessly–something already accomplished via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth–and people found them underwhelming. Then those late first-generation products didn’t even perform as advertised, often transmitting data at less than half the rate the promised speeds.

Vendors weren’t impressed. I watched an executive from Microsoft stand up at a meeting of UWB executives earlier this year, and basically yell at them for delivering an clunky product that didn’t work. Ironically it was a demonstration from WiQuest that showed a UWB-connected monitor at that meeting, that seemed to provide the most compelling case for UWB.

But to build that case the chips needed to be cheap enough to justify their addition to laptops, displays and other products. To get costs down, chip startups needed to sell a lot of chips–something they can’t do unless there’s a large market demand for the technology (or a huge vendor like Intel pushing it). Perhaps if other UWB startups hang on, and can launch a second generation product, we may see companies such as Alereon, Wisair, TZero Technologies and Staccato Communications keep going, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Even Radiospire, a UWB chipmaker aiming to use the technology to deliver HD video to televisions has seemingly shifted gears, offering 60 GHz schips for video transfer. Maybe others can make similar transitions, and avoid WiQuest’s fate. Wisair and Tzero did manage to raise more money earlier this year, which gives them some breathing room.

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