The IEEE has backed away from a standard for short-range high-speed wireless technology UWB, leaving the market to decide between two competing approaches.

Freescale, first to the market with UWB products, believes its headstart will give it a long-term victory, while WiMedia, with the backing of industry heavyweights including Intel and Microsoft, reckons its punch will eventually win through, even without a formal IEEE standard.

The two groups fought over proposals for an IEEE standard for UWB, which promises Gigabit wireless links over short distances. Neither could gain the necessary 75 percent majority in IEEE's 802.15.3a working group, which yesterday agreed to disband, leaving market forces to decide the ultimate winner.

WiMedia has backing from around 190 members, including Intel, HP, Nokia, Sony and Microsoft, for its multi-band orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (MB-OFDM) technology, while Freescale can count on around 180 mostly-smaller companies, which support its direct sequence-UWB (DS-UWB) flavour in the UWB Forum.

Earlier this month, Freescale beat WiMedia to the punch with products from Belkin and Gefen launched at the Consumer Electronics Show that carry USB signals between wireless dongles - despite the fact that the "official" UWB version of USB is supposed to be based on WiMedia. Wireless USB will be a key arena for the competition, as the two standards tussle to replace the hundreds of millions of USB connections. Although Freescale is first to market, the USB Implementors' Forum believes it will win out because of technical differences..

Earlier, WiMedia sidestepped the IEEE to get its standard approved by a European-based standards body, ECMA. Despite its efforts to get a rubber-stamp, WiMedia praised the IEEE move, for "allow[ing] the market to move forward with the commercialisation of multiple UWB technologies".

With DS-UWB already there and no standards to wait for, Freescale could grab the market, according to analyst Kirsten West, of West Technology Research. "DS-UWB, being the technology that has reached this starting line first, is likely to dominate the marketplace for the foreseeable future," she said, predicting 3.8 million UWB devices will ship this year - and almost 100 percent of them will be Freescale-based.

WiMedia products will be built into many devices to replace USB 2.0, but officially certified WiMedia based "Wireless USB" devices will not be avaiable until the third quarter of this year, according to the Wireless USB implementer's group.

The IEEE group's demise has been on the cards since the group's chair, Bob Heile, walked away from the fight, last summer.