Ultra-wideband fights for greater acceptance

Ultra-wideband, the future wireless standard that could see half-a-Gigabit wireless links replacing USB and Bluetooth, could be...

Ultra-wideband, the future wireless standard that could see half-a-Gigabit wireless links replacing USB and Bluetooth, could be breaking out of its standards purgatory.

A proposal by wireless specialist PulseLink has suggested any number of UWB standards could operate, if devices use an agreed low-speed signalling mode to negotiate. To sidestep the standards snarl-up at the IEEE, the idea will be put to the world's telecoms body, the International Telecommunications Union, in June.

Ultra-wide band radio sends data in pulses across a wide frequency band. Legal in the US - as long as it uses less power than normal radio frequency leakage - it still has problems finding a wider market. The chip-makers are still only at sample stage of silicon, but the bigger problem is that there is no standard.

The popular MBOA Alliance, proposed by Intel and others, is always blocked at the IEEE standards body by a smaller group backed by Motorola, based around direct sequencing.

Motorola has, so far, managed to muster a big enough minority, leaving the IEEE standards process stuck.

"A common signalling mode could iron out regulatory differences as well as standards," said Bruce Watkins, chief operating officer of PulseLink, at the Wireless LAN event in London last  week.

All suppliers have to do is agree on a simple low-speed communications link, and then devices can use this to make contact and negotiate to speak in any higher-speed UWB standard they both understand.

The ITU has, so far, been reported to be hostile to any form of UWB.

Despite this, Watkins is optimistic, suggesting that the common signalling mode could be used to negotiate UWB signalling that met any regional regulatory requirements. "A common signalling mode might be a regulatory requirement so that different countries could enforce their own UWB standards," he said.

"From a cost standpoint, the implication is about ten cents," he said. "There is no financial or technological reason not to do this," he said, and plenty of good reasons to go ahead.

The scheme would not only allow different suppliers to run different standards, but a single supplier could to bring out new versions without compatibility problems. It could even allow multiple UWB standards to operate at the same time. "It would intelligently allocate time slots to different UWB devices," said Watkins.

Watkins repeated his company's promise to deliver a "software-defined radio" sometime this summer, which can adapt to whatever UWB technology is required of it, if necessary with a small download of software. This device could reach 920 Mbit/s over five metres, he promised.

Peter Judge writes for Techworld.com

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