Thursday, December 28, 2006

Let's celebrate some innovators

Since I started this blog in late August I have written about many conflicts and failures. As the year 2006 winds down to a close, I'd like to do something positive by celebrating a handful of engineers and technology managers who contributed innovative ideas in interconnect technology this year.

Please post a nomination of anyone you would like along with a short rational, or drop me a line at I'll cull through your suggestions and write about the best of them, holding the innovators up to inspire us to great things in 2007.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Are you plugged in to Cable Card?

If so, I want to hear from you, pronto by a posting here or email to Word is Cable Card could see a renaissance at the Consumer Electronics Show where I will be with waaaaaaay to many other people in Vegas next month.

The FCC has mandated all new set-top boxes shipping after July 1, 2007 must have Cable Cards slots. And I have reason to believe Windows Media Center PCs are eyeing Cable Card as a way to finally plug in to digital cable and maybe satellite services, now that Vista brings enough security to assure service providers to let their digital broadcast content flow.

If you are up to speed on this, I'd like to hear about the implementation and market issues for the one-way Cable Card 1.0 vs. the two-way version 2.0 and the software-based Open Cable Applications Platform. What are people choosing and why? Thanks!

Friday, December 22, 2006

No relief in sight for digital display battle

As the year comes to a close I recall an Intel exec telling me he would push for a resolution of the battle between DisplayPort and the Unified Display Interface. Well, I guess that will have to go on the wish list for next year.

All sides appear to still be moving forward in this skirmish that pits the likes of Dell and Hewlett-Packard on the DisplayPort side with their biggest vendor, Intel, a proponent of UDI.

"All of us would appreciate it if someone would sort that out," said Bill Bucklen, advanced TV director for Analog Devices Inc. in an interview today. The company has no plans for UDI or DisplayPort chips, he added.

ADI rolled out its first HDMI version 1.3 products this week. It will demo a wireless media adapter running HDMI over the ultrawideband chips from Tzero Technologies at CES next month.

"We expect to see one or two TV makers bring this sort of adapter box to market for Christmas 2007," Bucklen said.

Here's hoping this holiday season brings you all broadband connections with those you love. --rbm

Thursday, December 21, 2006

UWB makes a mesh

Kiyon, Inc. has its mesh routing software up and running on the ultrawideband chips of startup Tzero Technologies. Siemens announced today it will ship home networking systems early in 2007 using the silicon and software.

This is the first use of mesh networking over UWB I have heard of. Even the more mature Wi-Fi folk are still hammering out their mesh standard.

Mesh networks could be a great way for UWB to expand its reach beyond the living room to become a contender for a whole home net. But the proof is in the pudding. Even Kiyon's marketing people are not ready to put hard numbers on the number of hops or latency their solution will support on the Tzero silicon.

What's more an exec with a major set-top box maker told me today the company will not integrate any wireless networking into its products in 2007 and sees "little interest" for UWB among its customers. That's one pretty big link refusing to be part of the mesh--rbm

Monday, December 18, 2006

SPI 4.2 update hits 6+Gbits

A new high-speed serial interface hits the market today with the release from the Optical Internetworking Forum of its Scalable System Packet Interface protocol today, a follow on to SPI 4.2 popular in comms chips. I wrote a round-up story on SPI-S and other major 5Gbit+ chip-to-chip links.

SPI-S and the Interlaken protocol from Cisco and Cortina Systems are the two head-to-head competitors in the group, profiled in a story earlier this year.

The big picture: at 6Gbits and beyond scopes and probes are less useful and new testing techniques are needed. That's keeping consultants like Howard Johnson and Eric Bogatin busy. It's also opening up new opportunities for companies like SiSoft that will introduce a product in 2007 to deal with the issues. Watch this space! --rbm

Friday, December 15, 2006

Staccato beats on the UWB pan

My colleague Loring Wirbel recently posted an excellent story about Staccato Communications Inc. and Korean carrier SK Telecom striking a partnership to push new uses for ultrawideband in handsets. The upshot is the duo hope to ride UWB for use in apps such as point-of-presence retailing and social networking using both Bluetooth and WiMedia protocols.

Loring has an excellent grasp of the current and historic technical, market and political issues surrounding the emerging PAN area so I highly recommend his article. But in the end, only time will tell if Staccato's efforts to market its UWB chips create some new and significant music or just add to the noise. –rbm

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Third contender for wireless HDMI

Among the snowstorm of emails about CES hitting my in-box was one about Amimon. I was not aware this San Jose startup was designing a third contender for wireless HDMI, the uncompressed HDTV link.

I have written about startup SiBeam and the group it has formed to promote 60 GHz radios to deliver 5 Gbits/s for wireless HDMI. My colleague Loring Wirbel wrote about TZero and ADI's partnership to deliver wireless HDMI using ultrawideband.

Now enter Amimon which is taking a slight but significant twist on 802.11n to deliver 1.5 Gbits/s over a 20 MHz channel for wireless HDMI. True, it's their second time trying to make a big splash at CES with an FPGA prototype. But chips that initially could cost less than $50 and dissipate less than 5W per system are expected to be ready, perhaps in time for Xmas 2007 TVs.

There are some interesting stories to be told about what will and won't work for this hotly pursued application. Stay tuned. --rbm

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Trio of new 6Gbits/s+ links coming

I wrote on December 4 about how this month the PCI SIG may complete work on the PCI Express 2.0 spec for 5GHz chip-to-chip links. Tom Cox, executive director of the RapidIO Trade Association, was quick to point out his group is also working on a 2.0 spec defining 5 and 6GHz links.

The RIO 2.0 spec still has to pass a final ballot, but Cox and crew have been presenting the details to engineers on a road show that has traveled across the US, Japan, China and India. "I must say that 5 and 6.25 Gbps are not the urgent need of the industry today, but the technology is available and the definition is important by the standards body before a de-facto choice just happens," Cox said.

There's even more to come. Watch this space Monday for news about another 6Gbit/s+ interconnect about to hit the streets. This one relates to the Cisco/Cortina Interlaken work I blogged about on November 2.

Meanwhile, I'd love to hear what you think—oh, board designer in the field—about the requirements and challenges of pushing chip-to-chip links to 6GHz and beyond. Drop a post or an email to

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

ASI goes quietly away

I reported back in August that the Advanced Switching Interconnect, a spinoff of PCI Express technology for comms systems, was effectively dead. No one from the ASI SIG or its primary backer, Intel Corp., ever fessed up to it and the ASI SIG Web page stayed live—until today.

It's officially a dead Web site now, though there is still material about ASI to be had on Intel's Web site—for awhile anyway. Will the technology be reformulated by Intel or anyone else, perhaps under a new name such as PCIe Embedded? Could be more shoes to fall.

If anyone wants to come clean about what's happening, I am all ears. --rbm

Monday, December 11, 2006

The attack of the killer Ns

A host of 802.11n draft products are rolling out this holiday season, including a consumer-focused chip set from Metalink announced today. The company has tapped the latest process technologies to shrink its three chip set down to two that consumer 2W maximum, cost less than $20 in high volumes and offer as much as 210Mbits/second of data throughput.

As these chips begin appearing in PCs, media adapters and a retail flood of routers and gateways, it could establish a beachhead of good-enough technology in the home. I think coax, powerline and HPNA will find a big threat with .11n this year. What's your view? --rbm

Friday, December 08, 2006

Can Apple fix Moto's Rokr?

OK, this ain't exactly interconnect stuff, but I am hungry for feedback on this one. Everywhere I go people say the music phone is one of the next big things in consumer electronics, but nobody has got it right yet. Not even giant Nokia whose music phone scares me it's so ugly.

Well, Apple set the tone in MP3 players with the iPod and in portable media players with the video iPod. OK, I give Sony plenty of credit for a tie here with the pricey PSP.

So is Apple up for a hat trick with the much rumored iPhone? I have more questions than answers.

What have music phones done wrong so far? What can Apple (or Sony if it could get its head out of its lithium ion) do right? What is the right consumer experience and what does that translate to in terms of silicon and software? And how would Apple avoid getting its design and revenue model ensnared in the tentacles of a Cingular and Verizon?

I'd love to hear what you think here or at

Bluetooth smacks down UWB in 2007

Gartner Dataquest is quite bullish on Bluetooth as the rising tide in consumer personal area networks for 2007, much less so for ultrawideband. That's an interesting reality check given UWB clearly whomps BT's backside with waaaay more bandwidth.

Bluetooth is in about a third of the 800 million cellphones this year, rising to some 72 percent by 2010, according to a briefing by Dataquest analysts in San Jose today. BT also has a play as a headset attachment for portable media players like the iPod. UWB is in approximately zero phones and MP3 players now and still under the market watcher's radar for the next couple years.

So where's UWB? "It's initially a [USB] cable replacement for PCs, but it will take time to move into consumer electronics and particularly portable devices, because UWB really taxes a battery when you are in streaming mode," said Jon Erensen, a consumer analyst for Gartner Dataquest.

Perhaps like Bluetooth before it, UWB will have to fall from its hype phase into a phase when we declare "UWB is dead" before it comes roaring back in a few years.--rbm

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Getting to know mobile WiMax

Thanks to plenty of push from intel, and now Sprint/Nextel, mobile WiMax is giving the old fixed broadband wireless sector a much higher profile. Because this is one of the technologies you probably need to better understand, my colleague Jack Shandle wrote an in-depth tutorial on it. It became one of the top eight most read stories on his Wireless DesignLine site in 2006. --rbm

Monday, December 04, 2006

100-to-5: Ethernet trumps Express

No sooner had I finished posting my note about the searingly fast 5GHz PCI Express on the horizon (see below) than in my email box comes the news that the IEEE 802.3 Higher Speed Study Group has officially voted to support 100 Gbit/second as the next speed for Ethernet.

I know from earlier talks with the group's chair, John D'Ambrosia (see my Sept. 29 posting), the group could take many paths to that data rate including multiple parallel lines. Still, whew! Things are getting hot in interconnect valley! --rbm

Are you ready for 5GHz?

The PCI Express 2.0 spec could be officially complete by the end of the year, laying down a path for 5GHz chip-to-chip signaling in a broad range of computer, communication and consumer gear.

I have two questions for you about that: Is there demand for this speed? If so, where is it? And what are the signal integrity issues computer, comms and consumer engineers face at this data rate?

Please c'mon back with some lively and substantive postings. Or if you are more inclined email me at --rbm

Friday, December 01, 2006

Wireless USB goes upband

It almost missed the fact that the USB Implementers Forum announced this week plans to support ultrawideband at frequencies above 6GHz. This apparently is aimed at opening the door to using the technology on cellphones and consumer devices without fear of interfering with cellphone and other traffic in the current wireless USB space below 5GHz.

I know from reporting back at WinHEC this spring that cellphone makers in the Bluetooth Special Interest Group were saying they didn’t want to see Bluetooth running in the 3.1-4.8GHz UWB bands that may be used for 4G cellular. Folks at Cambridge Silicon Research were suggesting they had a way around the interference--perhaps using cognitive radio techniques--but I have heard no follow up on that.

In any case the wireless USB folks aim to support 6GHz+ starting in mid-2007 and expect products out in thos frequencies in early 2008. The first wireless USB products in the existing sub-5GHz range should be out shortly and be one of the hot items of CES in January. --rbm