A few months ago, the standards processes for both 802.11n and ultrawideband (UWB) technologies seemed to be at similar stages -- stagnated by industry division with little end in sight. But yesterday, separate IEEE task forces effectively brought conclusion to these sagas, albeit with polar-opposite approaches.

Bolstered by consensus rallied around the Enhanced Wireless Consortium (EWC), a draft standard for 802.11n was approved unanimously and standards ratification within a year seems like a formality. On the other hand, the IEEE task force considering UWB proposals overwhelmingly voted to disband the standards process, leaving the UWB Forum and the WiMedia Alliance to battle it out in a market-driven free-for-all.

ABI Research issued a report today that compared the UWB situation to the well-known VHS-Betamax battle waged roughly a quarter century ago in the television-recording industry. On the surface, that makes sense, but some notable differences emerge when one digs a little deeper.

For instance, having a standard is much more important in today's market, as it helps drive economies of scale and research that are critical in the development and pricing of products. More important, the VHS-Betamax battle was played out in an environment where there was no other way to record television programs, so the victor was able to claim the spoils. But that may not be the case for UWB.

One exciting application for which UWB theoretically is ideal concerns the wireless transfer of video from one device to another, such as from a digital video recorder to a TV that's not connected to it. But UWB is not the only technology that can satisfy this high-bandwidth application -- 802.11n promises data rates that can achieve the same result. Moreover, who knows what other technologies may emerge in the future?

In contrast, the standardization of 802.11n promises to deliver the price/performance impact that promises to escape the UWB sector. Chips can be produced in greater number, and application developers and enterprise users will be more willing to place their investment bets on a standard rather than a proprietary protocol. Given these circumstances, it is difficult to imagine manufacturers and customers opting for a UWB product in applications that can be addressed by 802.11n.

I've always been a big fan of UWB and still believe the technology is promising and still may be the best choice for certain applications. But the inability of the industry to agree on a standard threatens to undermine the economics necessary for the technology to reach its full potential.

E-mail me at donald.jackson@penton.com.