Intel takes Ultra Wideband to 220M bps

Intel demonstrated a prototype Ultra Wideband (UWB) radio system transmitting data at over 220M bps (bits per second) on Friday, and claimed a world-first for the speed.

The prototype was demonstrated by Kevin Kahn, head of Intel's communications and interconnect technology laboratory, as part of his keynote speech at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) Japan event, which ended Friday at Maihama just outside Tokyo.

The transmitter and receiver pair, which Kahn said were just out of the laboratory, achieved a sustained data rate of around 220M bps over a distance of about one meter for approximately 2 hours while on display on the IDF Japan stage. The data rate is more than double that of a system Intel showed in Japan a year ago: That system was working at 100M bps.

UWB is a relatively new wireless technology that is still under development. It is being eyed by many companies as a system to connect computers to each other or nearby peripherals, and as a replacement for slower technologies like Bluetooth. Commercial UWB products are expected sometime in 2004 or 2005.

The standard is being pushed by Intel and several other companies at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.15 Working Group for Wireless Personal Area Networks.

UWB is able to achieve such high data transmission rates because it transmits data over a very large chunk of the frequency spectrum. As currently approved by the U.S. Federal Communication Commission it utilizes 7.5GHz of spectrum between 3.1GHz and 10.6GHz -- an area over 80 times as wide as that used by 802.11b WLANs (wireless local area networks) and about 25 times as wide as the higher speed 802.11a technology.

The area in which UWB operates is already home to numerous other services, including communication services, space research and also 802.11a wireless LAN (local area network) technology. To avoid interference with existing users the system is permitted to operate at very low power levels, which means the signals don't go far.

"In radio you can usually trade range for rate," said Kahn. "If you are trying to go a long distance then (IEEE) 802.11a will perform better but once you get into (short) range then UWB is better."

The system demonstrated Friday was based on multiband UWB, which is a variant of the technology that is being backed by Intel and most other companies pursuing UWB research, said Kahn. The multiband version of the technology splits the 7.5GHz of space over which UWB operates into a number of subbands.

This enables companies to produce cheaper equipment that does not cover all the subbands but can still communicate with UWB networks, and also allows a band to be turned off to avoid interference.

Interference from the system is however expected to be rare because of its low power, said Kahn. He said he only foresees problems in cases such as a notebook computer that is also using 802.11a wireless LAN and has antennas for each technology located very close together.

Kahn said he expects standardization of the technology to take place within the next two years.

"We hope to complete (standardization) next year but realistically, at the speed the IEEE works, it may be 2005." After standardization, commercial products should follow. "It's a candidate for what might be thought of as a third-generation Bluetooth," he said.

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Martyn Williams

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