On Feb. 14 the Federal Communications Commission gave the green light to a new generation of wireless communications, imaging and radar systems by approving the commercial use of Ultra Wideband wireless technology. I was telepresent at the proceedings, courtesy of an FCC streaming media feed.
UWB transmissions consist of low power, short duration signals sent out across an “ultrawide” swath of the spectrum. In any one part of the spectrum across which the signal is sent, the transmission appears as RF noise on par with what a PC produces. In contrast, Bluetooth–a narrowband wireless technology–operates in the 2.4GHz portion of the spectrum, and works to avoid interference by hopping among the 79 frequencies available there.
So far, eWEEK Labs tests have indicated that Bluetooth and neighboring 2.4GHz technologies such as 802.11b can co-exist as advertised. While UWB radios show promise of much less intrusive operation, UWB is relatively early along in its development, and most interference tests have been conducted by self-interested industry parties.
In response to UWB critics who warn that the technology will interfere with aviation equipment and GPS systems, the FCC restricted operation of UWB radios to the frequency band 3.1 to 10.6GHz, which should keep UWB devices out of GPS way. The commission did, however, express its desire to further loosen the restrictions on UWB once more testing data is available.
The FCC had previously granted waivers to a handful of firms to begin development and limited marketing of UWB products to test their effects. Among these firms was Time Domain Inc., whose PulsON chipset will power some of the early UWB products.
UWB transmitters promise to boost dramatically wireless networking data rates, enabling high speed video distribution and perhaps providing a wireless alternative to Firewire links.
However, as we learned with Bluetooth, the development and mainstream productization of wireless technologies can take a long time. There does exist a UWB Working Group, but its not clear how far UWB standardization efforts have progressed.
In any case, UWB certainly represents an important step forward for wireless communications. Hopefully, it wont be too many years before similarly spectrum-saving technologies are the norm, and our computing devices all carry software-defined radios adapted to their environments, thriftily sending transmissions across whatever portion of the spectrum is available.
Technical Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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