Philips, General Atomic to work on UWB chips

A joint effort announced Monday between Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV and research and development company General Atomics Inc. is aimed at producing chipsets for wireless network equipment that runs more than 40 times as fast as today's IEEE 802.11b networks.

The companies have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that calls for jointly developing chipsets for UWB (ultra-wideband), an emerging short-range, high-bandwidth wireless LAN technology. The companies also plan to support the process of standardizing UWB technology, according to a Philips statement.

Philips envisions the chipsets going into gear that transfers digital content at 480M bps (bits per second) between clusters of entertainment or computing devices in the home. These could include digital video recorders, set-top boxes, TVs and PCs, according to the statement.

UWB encodes data into short pulses that are transmitted on a wide range of radio frequencies. Although UWB pulses would use frequencies that are simultaneously used by several other kinds of networks, including 802.11a, the pulses are designed to be so low-powered that they don't interfere with other communications, according to Gemma Paulo, an analyst at In-Stat/MDR, in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The technology is expected to deliver much higher capacity than do current wireless LANs, though over a shorter distance. For example, Intel Corp. last year demonstrated a UWB network that it said delivered 90M bps to 100M bps and could work over several meters. Philips and most other vendors expect further development to bring the speed up to about 480M bps, Paulo said.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last February approved the commercial use of UWB with some limitations after a long fight over possible interference with navigation systems and other spectrum users. In addition, a group in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. is expected to become an official standards task group this month and develop a standard for UWB, Paulo said. Such a standard probably would not be completed until a year or 18 months from now, although pre-standard products may arrive in time for the holiday shopping season late this year, she added.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas later this week, startup XtremeSpectrum Inc., in Vienna, Virginia, will demonstrate home entertainment products that use its UWB technology, according to a representative of the company.

Cooperation between Amsterdam-based Philips and San Diego-based General Atomic will bring together radio-frequency and semiconductor process technology from Philips and an advanced multiband UWB technology from General Atomic, according to the statement.

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