Ultra-wideband, the fast short-range wireless link which was supposed to be in handsets and PCs by now, is on the brink of failure after Texas Instruments pulled out of the technology.

Chip giant TI has dropped out of the Wimedia Alliance - the body behind UWB - and put its weight behind the 802.11n fast Wi-Fi standard. It is following the Bluetooth SIG which shifted to 802.11n for the fast version of its protocol, downgrading a UWB version which has yet to be delivered.

“For now we think that 802.11n Wi-Fi gives us the right technology to use until UWB becomes mature enough to put in a handset, and we are working with the Bluetooth SIG to use Wi-Fi as a basis for the next Bluetooth,” said Yoram Solomon, senior director, technology strategy and industry relations at Texas Instruments, in the subscription Faultline newsletter from Rethink Research - quoted at ARCchart.

"I’ve seen all the demonstrations and lab results that show that UWB can deliver upwards of 480 Mbps, but that’s not in a commercial product, and it is especially not possible when its on the same 5mm x 5mm piece of silicon as two other radios, and for a phone that’s where it’s got to work," said Solomon, who said UWB was looking equally shaky in home networking as well as in phones.

Despite being promised since at least 2003, UWB has never lived up to the hype, says ARCchart's Matt Lewis: "[In 2003], ABI was predicting that UWB electronics and chips would reach 45.1 million units by 2007, with industry revenue of $1.39 billion," said Matt Lewis of ARCchart. "Parks Associates reckoned that UWB systems would exceed 150 million devices by the end of 2008. With the benefit of hindsight, these estimates now look somewhat comical."

"The big question is whether chip prices will dip low enough for handsets and accessories to be viable before the technology’s window closes," said Lewis. IMS Research has put a deadline on that, he says - if it doesn't succeed this year, it's had it.

“Wireless USB really has to succeed this year. The industry has been building the hype, they’ve been saying since 2006, ‘It’s here, it’s here, it’s here’,” says IMS Research's Fiona Thomson in a report, The World Market for UWB. Chip prices are apparently now at $10 which is too high for UWB to take off in volume; if they can fall to $2, the market for UWB - in the form of Wireless USB - could reach $1 billion by 2013, she says, however.

Wimedia Alliance confirmed that TI had pulled out of the group, and is understood to be preparing another big marketing push for the technology. Some laptop makers including Lenovo have offered Wireless USB based on UWB as an option in laptops available in the US.