Technology | Media | Telecommunications

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ultra-Wideband Still in Search of Demand

In 2006 analysts said that it appeared that the market launch of ultra-wideband (UWB) was imminent. Several factors conspired to delay that, but ABI Research now expects UWB to see very strong growth starting in 2008, finding its first success in computers, and eventually in mobile handsets.

Forecasts indicate that shipments of UWB-enabled devices will grow from virtually nothing today, to more than 400 million in 2013. Seems implausible, doesn't it?

"The ultra-wideband market did not come out of the starting gates in 2006 as we had anticipated," says senior analyst Douglas McEuen. "There were several reasons for the delay, including a shakeout from three competing flavors of the technology to one, and the absence of global standards."

Now, however, conditions are ripe for a rapid takeoff, supposedly. We are starting from Year Zero: in 2007, only about 40,000 UWB-equipped devices shipped. This year, there will be perhaps a million, and ABI Research expects the curve to rise sharply thereafter.

Because an official UWB standard has now been ratified in the United States, North America is expected to lead this market for some time to come.

The current sweet-spot in this market is UWB's application as a wireless USB enabler, connecting computers (especially notebooks) with printers, hard drives, and other peripherals. An initial UWB hub and dongle configuration will enable users to retrofit the vast number of existing PCs and related equipment with wireless connections.

UWB modules are just starting to appear in selected laptops (initially from Lenovo, Dell and Toshiba), but true silicon integration will apparently take much more time.

Later, other kinds of consumer electronics such as digital cameras and camcorders, HDTV, and portable music devices will start to build the numbers, but real market acceleration will only occur when UWB debuts in mobile handsets, where it will be used -- possibly bundled with Bluetooth -- to transfer music, pictures and video files.

Even a small handset market penetration will potentially deliver huge numbers. For UWB to see wide adoption in handsets, however, the price of the chipset must fall quite significantly.