Investing in Wireless Standards, or 802.11ad – Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know?

Investing in a new wireless standard can be an expensive experiment. The investment can be vast, as I’ve described in a previous article on the cost of wireless standards. It’s not unusual for the combined cost of writing and bringing a standard to market to run into billions of dollars. When a standard loses out to a competing one, it’s a heavy loss both for the VCs who have invested in it as well as the companies who have worked on it. The problem is that there’s not been a good way of determining in advance which standards will succeed and which will fail.

Up until this point, the only real yardstick has been the Intel test. That’s the principal that if Intel invests heavily in a wireless standard (think HomeRF, WiMedia or WiMax), then the standard will fail spectacularly. Conversely, if Intel withdraws its development effort from a wireless standard, as they did in the early days of Bluetooth back in 2002, then the standard will be a roaring success. The Intel test isn’t a perfect one – it fails to predict the acceptance of Wi-Fi, but with a track record of four predictions out of five, it’s a lot better than just flipping a coin.

What the industry needs is a new test. I’m going to suggest the Byron test. It’s a more literary approach, suited to the alphabet soup of the 802.11 family of wireless standards and inspired by the popular description of the romantic poet as “mad, bad and dangerous to know”.

Read More

Unexpectedly Welcome Back – UWB

Mark Twain famously said (or almost said) “rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated”.  Just when you thought it was safe to stay at home and live with slow speed wireless data transfer, UWB has performed a similar reincarnation, appearing to rise, Lazarus-like, from its grave with the announcement of two new chipsets from Samsung and CSR.

UWB has had a chequered history of ups and downs.  Last year, when I started writing my book “Essentials of Short Range Wireless”, I planned a chapter on it as it seemed to be experiencing something of a renaissance.  Half way through writing the book, a number of the key chip companies folded and I removed the chapter.  It looks as if I may have acted prematurely.

Why the resurgence of interest?  UWB has had a turbulent history, with many of the start-up companies supporting it going bust as the industry embarked on its love affair with ever faster variants of Wi-Fi.  The answer comes back to the classic divide between the PC and mobile phone industries and the feature that separates them more than anything else: one has a power cord and the other doesn’t. 

Read More