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.
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.”
: FCC vs. ITU”> What he means is that if the FCC decides on an acceptable standard for UWB in North America, that might be enough to make the ITU decide to ban it.
Naturally, it wont be phrased like that. But when you strip away the rationale and the technical white paper that will line every wall of the meeting room, thats what youll be left with.
Currently, the dispute appears to center on the question of how far below background noise UWB should be. The American approach is (more or less) based on the typical radio noise level in the typical American home. The ITU feels that the rest of the world is less noisy, and so UWB radiation should be lower.
Do not dare call this a mindless quibble! Highly qualified engineers will pour forth from the floorboard cracks and the ventilation shafts and out from the sewers and down from the sky, to make detailed and devastating rebuttals of any argument that the IEEE may have. You, or I, will never be able to win those arguments on technical grounds because who knows who may be right?
The Pulselink approach is one that impresses me. Its pragmatic. It plans to use UWB technology, not just over the air but along the electrical mains system and also down the coax cables that infest most houses. This produces a very-high-bandwidth data feed to home electronics.
Thats fine for Pulselink, because it can sell to a captive market of cable companies that will build those silicon-germanium chips into their set-top boxes and head-end controllers. “Compatibility? What with? Who cares! We make the stuff at both ends … “
But for the consumer market, compatibility is everything. Anybody can make a UWB system that transmits and a receiver that decodes the transmission. The clever bit is making one that works with the competition, and the Wi-Fi Alliance (which certifies products for interoperability) is collectively going gray trying to sort this one out.
For that, weve learned the hard way, the SIG approach is best. Everybody joins the SIG and the SIG owns the intellectual property, and if you dont conform, you cant license the technology.
If the Bluetooth SIG decides that the next-generation Bluetooth is going to be UWB-based, heck, I might just support that. If only to avoid a fight …