IDF - Intel pushes UWB wireless to 100M bps, looks higher

As standardization talks begin on a new wireless data transmission technology called Ultra Wideband (UWB), Intel has demonstrated a prototype UWB system that can send data at 100M bps (bits per second) and said it plans to push the technology to higher speeds in the near future.

The Intel system, on show at the Intel Developer's Forum Japan that began here on Tuesday, was successfully managing data rates of between 90M bps and 100M bps over a distance of a few centimeters. Intel said its current system will work over distances of several meters although because UWB has not yet received regulatory approval in Japan the company was forced to place the transmit and receive antennas inside a screened box.

The system is designed to be used in a similar way to Bluetooth, as a personal area networking technology operating at very low power levels with a range of around 10 meters. Intel's enthusiasm for the possibilities of the technology, which it envisages on the corner of every chip in the future, was easy to see.

"As a personal area network (PAN) technology it is way cool," said Patrick Gelsinger, chief technology officer of Intel and head of Intel Labs, where work on the system is taking place. "We're not talking about ten times faster. We are talking about 100 times faster than Bluetooth."

And that is just the beginning. Intel is currently working on taking the system to 200M bps and then 400M bps, possibly within the next 12 months, and has set a final target of 500M bps, according to company sources. At that speed, it will be 500 times faster than Bluetooth and nine times the speed of next-generation wireless LAN systems.

Unlike existing wireless data systems, which modulate data onto radio carriers operating on fixed channels, UWB is a spread-spectrum system. This means that data is encoded onto pulses that are broadcast across a wide range of frequencies. For data transmission, the system offers a much higher capacity than that of fixed channel technologies and there are other benefits too.

It is much less likely to suffer interference, because the transmission is spread throughout the radio spectrum and this spreading of the signal makes it much more difficult to intercept -- a feature which made the military an early adopter of systems based on the technology. And because signals are low power and spread throughout the spectrum, they can share space with existing radio communications and not cause those services interference. This is especially important today when almost every area of the radio spectrum is reserved for one service or another and finding space for new systems is becoming increasingly difficult.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) just recognized this when it took a "cautious first step" with the new technology and adopted a First Report and Order that allows companies like Intel to begin using the service in a chunk of spectrum from 3.1GHz to 10.6GHz. In approving the system, the FCC noted its potential for data transmission as well as several other envisaged services.

"UWB technology holds great promise for a vast array of new applications that have the potential to provide significant benefits for public safety, businesses and consumers in a variety of applications such as radar imaging of objects buried under the ground or behind walls and short-range, high-speed data transmissions," the FCC said.

With initial approval in the U.S., Gelsinger said Intel is also looking at getting the necessary clearance in other countries and is making progress in Europe in this regard. The company is also looking for wide industry support in Japan in approaching the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications (MPHPT).

At the same time, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers has also begun a study of the new technology and its IEEE 802.15 personal area networks group is expected to report its initial findings in May.

"Commercialization of UWB is still a couple of years away," said Gelsinger. "Just now we are seeing some real breakthroughs in UWB. We are starting to get spectrum regulatory environments that enable us to move forward and there have just been standards groups in the IEEE 802.15 that have initiated a formal study group. It is just getting under way. As that happens there are going to be some competing alternatives proposed and we will go through a standardization decision process and then after that the products will follow."

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Martyn Williams

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