Practical ultrawideband wireless is getting closer, according to new details released at the Intel Developer Forum this week.
A new radio technology potentially capable of hundreds of megabits per second data transfer, UWB has been attracting increasing attention as early tests confirm the theoretical possibility of near-gigabit wireless from low cost, low power circuits. In tandem with the technological progress, regulatory and standards development are getting under way.
"We expect initial market deployment of standards-based UWB solutions to be sometime in the 2005-2006 timeframe," said Ben Manny, director of wireless technology development at Intel Research and Development.
Work on UWB has speeded up since the FCC, the American radio regulator, approved a very low-power variant in February of this year. Although UWB overlays the same frequencies as other services, its very low power and lack of a carrier frequency is thought by many to practically eliminate the chance of interference. At the FCC-approved levels, Intel says, 500Mbps can be achieved over distances of around ten feet, making the standard ideal for wireless USB 2.0.
Some applications being considered include replacing all wiring between domestic entertainment devices, a completely wireless docking station for laptops, a wireless home cinema and even a data cart that backs up an entire server farm just by being wheeled past the racks. "It could become a third-generation Bluetooth," said Intel reseach fellow Kevin Kahn, "a common wideband personal area network between mobile devices, PCs and consumer electronics."
The original UWB systems consisted of single pulses of radio energy, communicating data by their shape, timing or both. Intel is currently most interested in a new variant, UWB Sub-band, where the pulses are longer and contain short bursts of more traditional radio carrier.
The company says that this simplifies a lot of receiver issues, as well as making it easier to adjust the composition of the transmitted signal to comply with any local frequency restrictions placed by national regulators. "We've gone past the point where we expect there to be any show-stoppers in the physics," said Kahn. "There's lots to do yet before we know what shape the first products will be, but we have high confidence that this will work. Two years ago, we couldn't say that."
Intel is working with national regulators in Europe, Japan, China and the US. "We're actively addressing the challenges of global legislation and co-existence to ensure mainstream adoption," said Manny. The company is also supporting the IEEE standards group 802.15.3a as the only venue for cross-industry UWB standardisation, and advocates using the experience of existing industry special interest groups, such as the USB Implementers Forum, for interoperability testing.
UWB is not without its critics, however, with a recent report by NASA interference specialist James J. Ely raising the possibilities of problems with aircraft electronics. While everyone is agreed that much work remains to be done, most people in the field are bullish that the basic technology is robust and can be made suitable for very wide deployment.