Despite UWB standards war, CoWare urges OFDM development

Design-automation firm CoWare is encouraging ultra wideband development, even though two rival standards camps are warring over the future of the short-range wireless technology.

The future of ultra wideband remains in question, but that isn't stopping one company from encouraging the development of UWB products.

On Monday, CoWare Inc., a San Jose, Calif.-based electronic design-automation company, announced that it has added limited ultra wideband support to its Signal Processing Worksystem wireless LAN library. The SPW enables the verification of digital signal processing algorithms, essentially helping vendors to develop and test software, ensuring that it adheres to wireless networking specifications.

Eshel Haritan, CoWare's vice president of engineering, said that, even though UWB isn't in commercial use today, adding it to the SPW enables the company to be ahead of the curve.

"We wanted to be out there with the library when the standard is just starting, because a year or two after a standard is approved, [vendors] already have products developed," Haritan said.

Gemma Paulo, a senior analyst with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based analysis firm In-Stat/MDR, said the offering will make it easier for engineers to code programs that process ultra wideband signals. Paulo said the company's library has been utilized by a number of Wi-Fi vendors.

"They're hoping -- even though ultra wideband is still an exotic technology -- that those vendors return to them to help them get their products to market fast," Paulo said.

However, as of now, CoWare's library supports only orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) technology. OFDM -- supported by the Multiband-OFDM Alliance that includes Hewlett-Packcard Co., Texas Instruments, Microsoft, and 30 others -- is only one of the UWB standards that the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is considering.

The IEEE is also mulling over a proposal called direct-sequence code division multiple access (DSCDMA), which is endorsed by Motorola Inc. and XtremeSpectrum Inc. Motorola recently announced plans to acquire XtremeSpectrum.

The IEEE has been stuck in a stalemate over which UWB proposal to endorse, and it remains a possibility that both could move forward without the IEEE's blessing. The Multiband-OFDM Alliance already intends to formally release its OFDM specification to manufacturers next spring, with or without IEEE approval.

Paulo said that CoWare decided to offer OFDM support first because that specification is supported by a larger group of vendors. However, that doesn't mean that it is any more likely to become the de facto UWB standard.

"If OFDM was going to pass in its current form, it seems like it would have happened by now," Paulo said.

In fact, John Lundell, CoWare's senior architect, said the company plans to add DSCDMA support to its library in the near future, so that developers will be able to compare the two side by side to see which one is best suited to their applications' requirements.

"We had to start with one of the two, so we chose the one with the most momentum behind it," Lundell said, even though it's still unclear which one will become the IEEE's standard. "It looks likely that there will be a couple of de facto standards."

Lundell said that, despite the standards quagmire, UWB is a promising technology for short-range wireless networking in the enterprise, particularly for sending video from a computer to a projector in a conference room setting. Paulo said the first UWB-enabled products are unlikely to hit the market before next fall.

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