Thursday, July 24, 2008

Why the consortia virus is spreading

I've got a simple theory for why we are seeing so many, sometimes overlapping wireless consortiums with sometimes overlapping memberships.

This week Amimon announced a group of top consumer companies backing its 5GHz technology for sending uncompressed video across the digital home. It competes directly with the WirelessHD group SiBeam helped launch around 60 GHz technology for in-room links. Last week Sony debuted a group backing its TransferJet for short range synchs.

I am speculating the startups in search of credibility and design wins that can help them bootstrap into the mainstream offer a deal that's hard to refuse: Contribute some time from a few engineers and you get a chance to look at and influence the technology to make sure it works well on your systems, and maybe even a lower cost for adoption if you decide to use it.

There's very little to lose on such a deal, especially for the giant consumer electronics companies who have been jumping into multiple groups. The lesson: When the consortia virus strikes, immunize yourself with a dose of reality. These groups sound important, but they may not be good predictors of who will use what in a consumer wireless market that is still a wide open field where many flowers will blossom.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bogatin Begins Blog

Just a quick shout out to consultant Eric Bogatin who runs the "Be the Signal" Web site and has recently started blogging on the topic of technical tips for signal integrity engineers. Eric is one of my go-to guys when the questions get too sticky for my limited on-the-job engineering training to handle, so I am sure practitioners and all those folks over at the SI-List will find this blog useful.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

TransferJet takes wing

Talk about being blindsided. I thought Sony's announcement at CES about its ultrawideband-based TransferJet technology was an anomaly, something that would die a quiet death. Surprise, a slew of consumer companies are saying this morning they will participate in an effort to standardize the technology.

Well at a claimed 560 mMbits/s (PHY rate?) and an easy touch-to-associate user model, they have a good start. And now with giants such as Panasonic, Samsung, Toshiba and a handful of camera companies behind them, they have some clout.

As PR guru Susan Cain who forwarded the TransferJet release to me said, "Just what we need another wireless consortium!" Yeah, we have wireless USB, WirelessHD (60 GHz), WiFi Alliance, WiMedia, more out there now and more yet to come I know for a fact. Gotta find out more…

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

ABI makes UWB picks

Market watcher ABI Research reported today that WiQuest, Alereon and Pulse~Link came out tops among ultrawideband suppliers when measured on a range of factors. All three offer physical layer, RF transceiver and media access controller silicon and the three are tops in numbers of announced design wins.

WiQuest leads the pack largely because it claims it has won sockets at Belkin, Dell, DLink, Lenovo and Toshiba, said ABI analyst Doug McEuen.

McEuen admits the outlook for UWB is not as rosy as when many of the startups were cropping up a few years back, in part because the goal of 480 Mbit/second devices is still elusive. "But its still quite a viable market," he added.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The salmon of the CEA

The folks over at the Consumer Electronics Association are full of Omega-3s these days. They want to define a universal interconnect for media players by running copy protected High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) signals over the CEA's existing Portable Digital Media Interface (PDMI, aka CEA-2017).

That's a great and ambitious idea that would really serve consumer interests. Just imagine being able to take any media player and link it to any car or home docking station or other peripheral. Fabulous.

But, um, you know there's this company called Apple that makes this thing called an iPod. They have this tendency to sort of do their own thing. And sense the typical teenage consumer does not know the brand name for a second media player device, they can pretty much get away with these shenanigans, forcing the industry to follow their ad hoc-ish lead.

By the way, for those other companies--unknown to teenagers--also making media players there's this plug called USB. It's pretty popular. Maybe not quite the thing for a car in its current state, but these USB folks are pretty active in rolling out variantions and upgrades.

So my dear friends over at the CEA, I look forward to watching your ambitious efforts to swim upstream in digital media. If anyone has any observations or insights on this effort, post a comment or drop a note at

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Lou's views on links to use

I had a chance to catch up recently with Lou Lenzi (pictured), a veteran consumer electronics designer who currently heads up product management for the accessories business at Audiovox. He talked about several interconnects he is using in his latest consumer products including HD-PLC, WiFi and CEA-909.

Audiovox is rolling out a $399 wireless HDMI connector for flat-screen TVs and projectors using HD-PLC, the powerline technology developed by Panasonic. Lenzi's team surveyed many options including competing powerline approaches, ultrawideband technology from Pulse~Link and Tzero and Amimon's WiFi derivative.

Powerline was the best bet for adding no new wires around the wall-mounted displays and projectors, Lenzi's team concluded. HD-PLC gave his systems a net 90 Mbits/s, less than the advertised 190 Mbits/s but plenty enough to support a 1080-progressive display.

"We looked at them all, and were very impressed by their 128-bit AES encryption which will play well with content owners," said Lenzi. "Their technology spans multiple circuit breakers, and they have an easy pairing method," he added.

The only downside for powerline in general is cost. "I'd like to see the modules get down to $49 to really take off. Right now they are at $99," he said.

Lenzi's group also makes a variety of universal remotes for which WiFi is becoming increasingly important. Startups ZeroG and G2 are doing a good job pushing down component prices to get WiFi into more systems such as remotes, he said.

Finally, Lenzi's big new product for the fall is an indoor flat antenna for over-the-air digital TV that can plug into any analog or HDTV. He estimates some 20 million U.S. homes use over-the-air as their primary TV source. Another 14 million use it for at least one TV in the home.

"That’s a big opportunity for us," with the cut-off of analog signals coming in February 2009, he said.

The antenna can deliver a crisper picture than satellite TV systems which typically compress signals down to a tight 7 Mbits/s. So, even some HDTV users may buy the antenna box to get the best reception for special events such as the Super Bowl.

"If you do a side-by-side comparison of high def from over-the-air versus cable or satellite you would be surprised at the difference," said Lenzi.

Audiovox has patented the layout for antenna plates it uses in its mini-pizza box unit. Lenzi said the new CEA-909 interface that lets users "steer" antennas by electrically exciting different combinations of the plates will be a key feature for an upcoming crop of DTV converter boxes. The interface will eventually appear on set-top boxes and DTVs, too.

I first met Lou perhaps more than a decade ago when he was designing PC-TV systems for Thomson. Times and technologies have changed quite a bit since then, but Lou remains an optimistic and innovative engineer at heart.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Thanks for hitting me!

Somewhere along the line last week this little blog crossed 100,000 hits to date. I know that ain't much in these days of Web 2.0 mass market mania where everybody is angling for millions per week or day, but to this old-school print trade journalist who is still learning how to be a Webbie, it is amazing to think something done in my spare (!!) time has been viewed 100,000 times.

This milestone is especially gratifying given the fact I haven't been able to post daily for some time because I have been extra busy with other work stuff—and life stuff. So thanks, keep coming back and don't hesitate to provide feedback in a comment here or an email to

Monday, June 23, 2008

Is WiMax wobbly?

A new Frost & Sullivan report suggesting WiMax is in trouble is getting some attention today, latching on to a broader debate my colleague Jack Shandle explored with his recent story on the outlook for harmonizing WiMax and LTE.

There’s been a fair bit of tit-for-tat between WiMax and LTE lately. A group of LTE assembled to drive interoperability testing today. Recently both LTE and WiMax backers created separate efforts to come to grips with patent issues.

One of the big proponents of WiMax has been Intel which has dangled the possibility of rolling a combo WiFi/WiMax chip set into future Centrino notebooks to kick start this market as it did 802.11. It will be well worth watching for any developments on this front at the big Intel event in August. Meanwhile, the debates rage on.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Making sense of sensor nets

A brief trip to IEEE Secon raised more questions than answers for me about the status and outlook for wireless sensor networks.

A workshop on WiFi meshes suggested a few small companies are seeing some market traction with the technology despite the fact the 802.11s standard has gotten bogged down and there appears to be a lot of fundamental research still being worked out. Eric Brewer made it clear the technology has both huge potential and tremendous challenges in what is its potentially biggest market—getting the developing world on the Net.

A fire hose of a keynote from David Culler (pictured) raised other questions about work in the lower power, lower bandwidth 802.15.4 world. Here too it seems there are still unresolved standards and software issues for the industry, particularly around how meshes and routing are being defined. Culler’s efforts hold promise of a way forward, despite questions about what are the driving apps for sensor nets.

I suspect the apps are diverse ranging from the factory floor to health care at home, as Intel has shown. BTW, whatever happened to that national sensor net programs folks around the U.S. Homeland Security Department were talking about a few years ago?