UWB's fate to be decided this week

U.S. officials will this week decide the fate of a wireless replacement for USB, planned for PCs by the end of next year.

The U.S. regulator, the Federal Communications Commission, will decide a dispute on the precise interpretation of its rules on Thursday, which could settle the useful range of a form of ultra wide band (UWB), slated to do away with USB and Firewire cables. The following week, the IEEE will take a vote that could settle which kind of UWB will be the standard.

The FCC is judging the legality of multi-band OFDM, the flavor of UWB favored by Intel Corp. -- which has said it could be available in a USB dongle this Christmas. To bolster the technology, the two promotional groups behind this UWB flavor have merged, to form a group that will promote it in standards bodies and, will eventually certify products. The WiMedia Alliance will absorb the MBOA SIG.

Despite support from Intel, multi-band OFDM has had a rough ride. It has faced stiff opposition in the IEEE's 802.15.3a standards group for personal area networks, and a challenge to its legality under the rules of the FCC. Both have come from Motorola's Freescale Semiconductor subsidiary, and the UWB Forum which promotes it. Freescale is closer to real products than WiMedia , but is more focused on consumer electronics.

With agreement on an IEEE standard for UWB as far away as ever, start-ups are now concentrating on worldwide wireless regulators, to ensure the best market for the technology. "Standards apparently will take care of themselves in the market," said Jim Lansford, chief technology officer of WiMedia member Alereon Inc.

The regulatory issues could be just as fraught though. The FCC ruling could influence European regulation. Ofcom is leading the way, asking for comments by the end of March to a proposal to allow UWB under terms very like the FCC's. International regulation will be discussed by the ITU (the International Telecommunications Union) in May. "I would hope we will have regulations worldwide before products are delivered," said Steven Moore, director of intellectual property at Pulse-Link, a UWB start-up which stands outside the WiMedia/Freescale debate.

UWB is a challenge to regulators like the FCC and the U.K.'s Ofcom, which are accustomed to licensing most frequencies exclusively, because it spreads radio signals across a broad range of spectrum at low powers that are not expected to interfere with other radio equipment. The FCC has approved it, so long as it emits less radiation than devices such as PCs or CD players are already allowed to leak.

Multi-band OFDM is charged with contravening these FCC rules, an argument that focuses on how the power level of products is measured. The Alliance hopes to get a waiver which will allow it to bring products to market until the matter is finally settled. If the ruling goes against it, WiMedia might have to reduce the range to keep within FCC power limits -- Alliance members are confident this will not happen.

International regulations may limit UWB unnecessarily, warned Moore: "Some people are asking the ITU for power limits at some frequencies that are less than the power emitted by the human body. Some suggestions are less than thermal noise, and you can't do that without using a cryo-pump to cool down the surface of the Earth."

WiMedia members are hoping that a favorable result from the FCC will swing things their way when standards will come to the fore again. The deadlocked IEEE 802.15.3a task group will vote at the IEEE's plenary meeting in Atlanta this month, but neither of the two contenders, which have slugged it out for the last 18 months, is expected to get the required 75 percent majority.

A third contender, Pulse Link's CWave alliance -- see UWB standards war splits to three contenders -- promises faster speeds still, in a more LAN-like style. However CWave is further from products than WiMedia and Freescale, and is not formally proposing a standard at the IEEE, but has demonstrated its technology widely.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Peter Judge

Techworld.com
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?