Following our recent article on UWB ( /report/backissues/Report0604_4.html ) (BBHR 5/14/06), we got in touch with Staccato Communications, a fabless semiconductor company that has been a key participant in UWB development. About a month ago, we had a long telephone conversation and exchanged email with Mark Bowles, Staccato's Co-Founder and VP Business Development and Corporate Marketing.
Based in San Diego, Staccato has raised nearly $50 million from venture capital investors, and has focused from the beginning on developing single-chip CMOS solutions for UWB, with "six key patents" for UWB. The Ripcord family currently include four single-chip System-in-Package (SiP) products for Certified Wireless USB. One chip has the physical layer (PHY) only, while the other three integrate W-USB PHY, MAC and passive components in the single package. The importance of a single chip CMOS implementation, according to Mark, is that the functions it performs account for the dominant product costs and a single chip helps push both cost and power consumption lower.
Mark said that Staccato expects wireless USB and high-speed Bluetooth will be huge markets: "Analysts report that Bluetooth currently ships ten million chips a week; USB will ship 1.6 billion chips in 2006 and all flavors of Bluetooth will be 1.3 million in 2010," He said the secret to low-cost chips was to start with a single-chip CMOS solution, then drive down the costs and drive down the power consumption. "At a scale of millions of units, we can get below five dollars in high volumes by the end of 2008."
Our earlier article described four software stacks--W-USB, high-speed Bluetooth, wireless 1394, and WiNet (TCP/IP)--all using the same Wimedia radio. We asked Mark his views on integrating all of these on a single chip. He said Staccato will have W-USB, BT 3.0 and WiNet on the same chip, but "we see no interest in wireless 1394--no customers are asking for it."
We discussed the security concerns we had raised in the earlier article, and Mark said "Phil Zimmermann--the inventor of PGP--works for Staccato as our security consultant" and thinks the security model is sound.
Mark said wireless UWB products will be ready to ship "when we get a logo" and expects that will be by November. Typical first applications will include wireless USB dongles (wired USB to wireless adapters), hubs and mass storage bridges. Wireless USB mice and keyboards will come later, since they need much lower power consumption than the first implementations provide.
We discussed the potential for using UWB for high-definition video. He said it would work fine for compressed video, but not for the uncompressed video now carried on HDMI cabling "the physics and the FCC don't allow it." He explained that although WiMedia is very fast--Staccato's current chips have a 480 Mbps payload--high definition "wireless HDMI" at 1080p requires nearly ten times that speed. He didn't rule it out for the future, though, especially if the FCC becomes more comfortable with the impact of UWB on licensed spectrum holders.