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issue: December 2003 APPLIANCE Magazine

The Open Door
A Wireless Standard Built for Entertainment

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by Paul Reinhardt, executive director, WiMedia Alliance, Inc.

Over the next few years, consumers will become familiar with a new way to wirelessly connect home theater equipment, digital camcorders, and portable devices. It is called WiMedia(TM), and many international leaders in the semiconductor and consumer electronics industries support it.

As manufacturers, retailers, and installers in the consumer electronics and appliance arena know, there are a number of existing and emerging wireless technologies vying for a piece of the "connected home" market, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and ZigBee. Add to this a confusing array of mobile-phone-based service offerings for voice, text, and remote e-mail on GSM or CDMA devices, and consumers may be even more overwhelmed. So why do we need another standard, and what makes WiMedia unique?

WiMedia is the consumer brand mark for high data-rate, wireless multimedia networking operating in a wireless personal area network (WPAN) with a range of about 10 m. The WiMedia mark will provide a consumer-friendly means for identifying and assuring that products will work together to enable multimedia connectivity. With a focus on ease of use, WiMedia will achieve hundreds of megabits per sec communications in conjunction with high quality-of-service (QoS) provisions. This powerful combination will facilitate environments that can support multiple simultaneous streams of HDTV video, audio, and data. Anticipated WiMedia-enabled devices include MP3 players, digital cameras, printers/scanners, home-theater equipment, and video gaming platforms, to name a few. Initial devices should appear on the market for the 2004 holiday season, with volume shipments increasing in 2005 and 2006.

The force behind the development of WiMedia is The WiMedia Alliance (www.wimedia.org), a not-for-profit open industry association formed in mid-2002. The goal of the Alliance is to develop and adopt standards-based specifications, including application, transport, and control profiles; test suites; and a certification program to accelerate widespread consumer adoption.

Like its wireless counterpart Wi-Fi, which has emerged as a major force both in home networking and retail "hotspots," WiMedia is built upon an IEEE standard. Whereas Wi-Fi is basically a consumer name for IEEE 802.11 (a, b, g, etc.), which was designed as a wireless Ethernet and excels at computer networking, the WiMedia Alliance chose to build upon the IEEE 802.15.3 standard, with a focus on an ultra-wide band (UWB) physical layer (802.15.3a). 802.15.3 is optimized for low-cost, small-form factor and low-power consumer devices, and was specially designed to meet the demanding requirements of portable consumer imaging and multimedia applications. When combined with the extremely high date rate of UWB, the multimedia-oriented features of the 802.15.3 medium access controller provide the QoS provisions needed for streaming HDTV and other multimedia applications.

In addition to the bandwidth and QoS, an important technical characteristic of 802.15.3 and WiMedia is support for ad-hoc (or "spontaneous") networks in which the connected devices are only temporarily part of the network. In the case of mobile or portable devices, they remain part of the network only while in relatively close proximity to the rest of the network. A wireless personal area network can either be built around an object or a person, and can be either stationary or in motion, allowing a significant number of digital devices within range to directly communicate with each other without a central "access point," as needed in a Wi-Fi network. This will provide consumers with a newfound freedom to add a device without complex configuration. Finally, the standard is also secure - implementing privacy, data integrity, mutual-entity authentication, and data-origin authentication for consumer applications.

The primary goal of the WiMedia Alliance is to enable true multi-vendor interoperability by certifying that devices from different manufacturers can be used together. The WiMedia brand mark will indicate that the associated device has passed a series of tests that verify it is WiMedia-compliant and interoperable with other WiMedia-certified devices. WiMedia-compliant products are being designed to coexist with other WPAN/WLAN standards sharing the same frequency band. Alliance activities also include coordinating with other standards bodies, promoting the allocation of UWB spectrum at international regulatory bodies, and educational/promotional events such as developer conferences and interoperability forums.


About the Author

Paul Reinhardt is executive director of the WiMedia Alliance and a vice president of Global Inventures, Inc., an association management company specializing in technology industry consortia for the WiMedia Alliance and other client groups. Prior to joining Global Inventures, Mr. Reinhardt held marketing and business development positions at Sony Electronics and Sun Microsystems.


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