UWB Takes Aim At WLANs

UWB Takes Aim At WLANs
Recent developments pave the way for UWB technology to enable WLANs in the 5 GHz band.

By Janine Sullivan

•Technological Challenges
•Killer Apps?
•The Regulatory Scene: US & Abroad
•Product Development

As wireless local area networks (WLANs) get ready to expand to 5-GHz (see WLANs Prepare to Jump to 5GHz), ultrawideband (UWB) technology is demonstrating some great potential in this space. The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began the UWB approval process in 1998, and it is awaiting final results from National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on some interference issues. It seems that UWB is likely to be approved some time this year for commercial deployment in the US.

The primary applications for UWB technology are radar, location sensing, and communications. UWB signals are generated using short, video-like pulses that are transmitted over a wide range of spectrum.

Technological Challenges
As UWB is developed for commercial wireless networks, it is facing the same types of technological challenges as nearly all wireless technologies—performance, and power.

"One of the largest challenges in implementing a UWB wireless network is to ‘un-learn' classical radio theory, and expand expectations on network architecture and radio signal characteristics," observes Jeffrey L. Ross, Vice President of Corporate Development and Strategy, Time Domain, Inc. (Huntsville, AL)."Often UWB architectures create new possibilities, and out of the box thinking," Ross continues. For example, he notes that while multi-path signal interference acts as a hindrance to traditional wireless techniques, it can actually creates signal gain for UWB networks.

"The greatest technological challenges associated with implementing UWB are performance and power consumption," says Dr. Roberto Aiello, Founder, Chief Technology Officer, Fantasma Networks Inc. (Palo Alto, CA). Fantasma's products are specifically designed to address these challenges. "Our UWB implementations will support bandwidth intensive throughput requirements needed for multiple streams of high quality, full-frame video with very low power consumption," he adds.

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Killer Apps?
According to Parks Associates (Dallas, TX) the current market leaders for commercial residential networks include Time Domain, Fantasma, and Xtreme Spectrum, Inc. (Vienna, VA).

"UWB could prove to be significant competition to 802.11a in the commercial sector," observes Nikki Robison, Analyst, Parks Associates. UWB transmits over a broad range of frequencies (from below 2 GHz to above 5 GHz), so it co-exists easily with other uses of the spectrum. As a result of transmitting over a broad range of frequencies, UWB is also resistant to in-band interference.

Robison sees the market potential for UWB extending beyond the commercial sector and into the residential sector as a solution for delivering enhanced entertainment applications. "UWB technologies demonstrate Quality of Service and enable reliable transfer of streaming video," she adds, "Video applications in entertainment networks are one of the emerging killer apps that will facilitate consumer adoption of home networking solutions. Therefore, UWB stands to be competitive in the corporate or PC-computing environment, as well as the consumer electronic or entertainment-centric environment."

While entertainment may be the killer app for UWB, potential market stoppers include spectrum availability and FCC regulations (expected to be overcome), risk of interference with Global Positioning Systems (GPS) systems below 2 GHz (expected to be overcome), and finally, standardization. Robison notes that proprietary solutions seem to be appearing before any movement for standardization.

The UWB companies are anticipating FCC approval in the second half of this year; therefore, Robison expects to see chip shipments and development kits happening in December of this year or Q1 2002.

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The Regulatory Scene: US & Abroad
After its release of a Notice of Inquiry on UWB in 1998, the FCC commissioned the NTIA to address any harmful interference. The first study was of any harmful interference to non-GPS government systems, and the second was of the potential for UWB to produce interference in the GPS band.

The first study's results were released in January 2001, and they suggest that UWB products operating above 2 GHz produce no harmful interference. Results from the second part of the NTIA study are scheduled to be released in early March. UWB developers can avoid any potential interference issues by operating their systems above 2 GHz. Ross reports that recently a number of organizations have conducted compatibility tests of UWB, and their findings are expected to be submitted to the FCC in the near future.

"We believe that European regulators are closely monitoring NTIA and FCC activities," observes Aiello. Both he and Ross concur that Europe seems to be about a year behind the US in the regulatory process, with approval anticipated for mid-2002.

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Product Development
Time Domain's primary UWB product is the PulsON chipset. The second-generation of this chipset is set for release this summer. In addition, the company was granted a waiver from the FCC in 1999 to sell 2500 units of its through-wall motion detector, RadarVision, to law enforcement and public safety personnel. Fantasma is currently developing silicon-based solutions to enable consumer electronics manufacturers to add reliable, high-performance video networking capabilities to their products. The company anticipates having samples available in Q1 2002.

About the author…
Janine Sullivan is a contributing writer for Wireless Design Online. She is the founder and owner of The Write Solution, a technical writing agency. Janine can be reached at The Write Solution, write2@mindspring.com.

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