Actually, it would is unfair to dub the work of the IEEE 802.15.3 High Rate WPAN (wireless personal area network) Task Group as “another” wireless networking protocol.
The mandate of the 802.15.3 Group is to develop a wireless high-data-rate PAN technology capable of handling multimedia content. The work by the group is progressing at a steady rate and its emergence from the confines of the IEEE process may yet catch many industry participants and observers off-guard. The IEEE 802.15.3 standard could receive final approval in the second half of 2002, and early silicon may be sampling before year-end.
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The 802.15.3 Group was tasked with developing an ad-hoc MAC (media access control) layer suitable for multimedia WPAN applications and a PHY (physical layer) capable of data rates in excess of 20 Mbps. The current draft of the 802.15.3 standard (being dubbed Wi-Media) specifies data rates up to 55 Mbps in the 2.4 GHz unlicensed band. The technology employs an ad-hoc PAN topology not entirely dissimilar to Bluetooth, with roles for “master” and “slave” devices.
The draft standard calls for drop-off data rates from 55 Mbps to 44 Mbps, 33 Mbps, 22 Mbps and 11 Mbps.
It should be noted that 802.15.3 is not compatible with either Bluetooth or the 802.11 family of protocols though it reuses elements associated with both.
The value proposition that 802.15.3 offers is potentially compelling to vendors of mobile consumer electronics products, and even to those designing line-powered devices. It offers them a wireless, high-data-rate solution that is built from ground-up to provide guaranteed bandwidth for multimedia content, without the overhead (better efficiency) that even the final 802.11e standard (which provides MAC enhancements for 802.11-based wireless LANs) would have.
The technology is being developed with an eye to integration into a range of devices where enabling large file transfer or streaming content are of value, in some cases obviating the need for cables. These devices include digital cameras, digital camcorders, digital set-top boxes, game consoles, TV sets, MP3 players and notebooks.
Overlap With Bluetooth?
On the face of it 802.15.3 could be seen as a source of competition to Bluetooth since it too is a WPAN technology using an ad-hoc architecture. In reality this is not the case. Admittedly the concept of 802.15.3 is to allow for a chipset solution that would eventually be approximately 50% more expensive than a Bluetooth solution. Furthermore, the power consumption and size would be about 50% greater than a Bluetooth solution. However, on the flip-side 802.15.3 would allow for data rates considerably in excess of current sub-1 Mbps Bluetooth solutions. This is the critical differentiating element.
In effect 802.15.3 is being positioned to be a complementary WPAN solution to Bluetooth. This is particularly the case since the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) is going slow on its efforts to develop the next-generation Bluetooth Radio2, which would allow for data rates between 2 Mbps and 10 Mbps.
Overlap With Wireless LANs?
In Allied Business Intelligence’s (ABI) view there is actually more potential for 802.15.3 to be seen as overlapping with 802.11-based protocols than with Bluetooth. With 802.11-based wireless LANs pushing 54 Mbps and the work being done by the 802.11e Task Group it is clear that wireless LANs are also looking to become a serious contender for multimedia applications.
Even though 802.15.3 is being designed from scratch and would theoretically offer superior bandwidth for multimedia applications at favorable cost and power consumption metrics it will have a challenge distinguishing itself from full-fledged 802.11-based wireless LANs. Even so, one source of differentiation is that 802.15.3 is meant to be optimized for PAN distances (10 meters) while clearly WLAN range is further.
The way 802.15.3 is currently being positioned is critical in ensuring that confusion is avoided and that industry reception to the technology is positive. ABI believes that the Bluetooth community now has a better grasp of the limitations of Bluetooth technology and is generally likely to accept the rationale of 802.15.3. The same may not be the case with some members of the 802.11 community.
Elements of the 802.11 community will argue that given the current momentum, silicon price trends and development on QoS enhancements that 802.11-based solutions will evolve to adequately address multimedia needs.
ABI’s view of the work done by IEEE 802.15.3 is positive. Bluetooth technology currently is far from being capable of handling intensive multimedia applications envisaged, and 802.11 wireless LAN technologies need to improve further before they can match the cost, QoS and power management characteristics of 802.15.3. However, it is critical that 802.15.3 backers deliver on their promises and accurately position the technology.
On a broader note it is becoming very evident that multiple wireless networking protocols can thrive if they are optimized for different sets of applications. Moreover, as RF technology continues to advance it is becoming more conceivable to imagine a future in which a single chipset can handle multiple protocols and the radio can be utilized across multiple frequency bands.
Navin Sabharwal is Director of Residential and Networking Technologies with Allied Business Intelligence. He has authored numerous studies on residential connectivity and wireless networking.
Allied Business Intelligence Inc is an Oyster Bay, NY-based technology research think tank that offers expert advice and research on wireless, broadband, and emerging technologies. Details can be found at www.alliedworld.com or by calling 516-624-3113.