UWB Standard Is Still Up for Grabs

Opinion: The push to get an ultra wideband standard should take a cue from the Wi-Fi 802.11a experience.

I havent heard the bulletins out of Geneva, but if they say "sweetness and light" on UWB, Ill put my money on "wishful thinking".

The word on the street is that ultra wideband wireless is more likely to become a Bluetooth standard than a generally accepted PAN (personal area network) alternative proposed by anybody else. I have to confess that this came as quite a relief to me, because the alternative looks like open warfare between Europe and America.

The idea of UWB is simple enough: You generate very, very low power signals across a huge spectrum, and then count on clever decoding to get the data out—at broadband speeds over wireless. The signal is actually below the average background noise, and so (in theory) will generate no interference to any other spectrum user.

In theory, this month in Switzerland, we should have seen the resolution of the UWB standards battles by agreement inside the ITU (International Telecommunication Union). In reality, the politics of the matter will make it likely that whatever agreement is announced is meaningless.

The problem has nothing to do with Intel versus Motorola, or even Pulselink versus the rest. Im afraid its the old "North America versus the world" game again, and theres a grudge match.

Essentially, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) seems to think that by allowing UWB experiments, it has effectively created a de facto standard for this wireless technology. It did say, when it allowed UWB trials, that it was tentative, temporary and so on.

But an awful lot of people in the industry seem to imagine that if they create big noise inside the IEEE and sit on the right FCC committees and work with the right ITU staff, they can steamroll the world into seeing UWB their way.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to see why some analysts agree that the FCC created a de facto UWB standard.

To understand why it isnt going to be like that, you have to look at Wi-Fi 802.11a. This uses the 5.8 GHz bands. The ITU was planning to use those bands for HiperLAN (high-performance LAN) technology,.

"The European authorities still feel they got mugged over HiperLAN, when IEEE 802.11a was launched on the world," commented one delegate from Geneva. "I think theyre going to make darn sure they dont get mugged again over UWB."

Next page: The FCC versus the ITU.