'Standards wars' threatening Ultrawideband

Summary:Delaying tactics and regulatory failings are hampering ultrawideband, according to leading UK wireless experts

Professor Andy Hopper, chairman of the Cambridge University computing laboratory, has slammed communications regulator Ofcom and industry players for their attitude to Ultrawideband (UWB).

"We've got standards wars", Hopper said, in the opening speech at the Open Future for Wireless Communications conference in Cambridge on Tuesday.

"Large companies want to draw it out as long as possible so the smaller companies will fall by the wayside. Smaller companies are getting funding on the basis that there'll be regulation and support from the Ofcoms of this world, and that's not happening," added Hopper, professor of computer technology at Cambridge.

He also said that some key aspects of UWB are going unheeded. "In our case, we want UWB for location, not just communication. We're in a double bind. In the US, it's regulated and there's an industry behind it. Over here, there's no industry but there are customers. UWB location was pioneered by fifteen years work in this town, and Ofcom isn't being very helpful," Hopper claimed.

UWB combines very high speeds data transfer with very low power over short distances. It is expected to make its commercial debut in consumer equipment such as set-top boxes, high definition TVs and portable music systems.

Back in January this year, Ofcom said it was in favour of allowing UWB services in the UK, but it has yet to make a final decision. Some insiders have suggested that Ofcom will insist on tougher regulations than exist in the US.

Speaking to ZDNet UK after the conference's morning session, Communications Innovation Institute chairman Dr David Cleevely was passionate about the role current incumbents of the radio spectrum are playing in slowing the adoption of UWB.

"The case against UWB is overdone," he said. "It will create billions of dollars, and the question is how are those who oppose it going to compensate us for not letting it happen?"

The problem, Cleevely believes, is a lack of coherence at the heart of spectrum regulation. "You can't define property rights. If I say that UWB is interfering with my service and I need to install more base stations, how can I prove it? Nobody knows what it means to own spectrum. If I use your spectrum but don't impact on your service, how do we measure this?"

He predicted a dangerous hiatus if these issues aren't tackled. "Sclerosis will set in if somebody doesn't do some serious thinking to sort out these problems," he said. "I don't know what the answer is, but we need to start tackling these issues head-on".

Cleevely believes one of two futures will happen. "We either assume we have all the new technology we need, define spectrum in terms of wavelengths and lock everything down for a hundred years, or we think laterally and come up with stuff we've never even dreamed of. One is like the communications world before the Internet, when the telcos were in charge, the other is afterwards."

Ofcom, though, insists that it is playing fair by UWB.

"Ofcom has been one of the most proactive regulators in Europe. We have to make balanced decisions -- when everyone's hurting equally, we've probably made the right decision," said William Webb, head of research and development at Ofcom.

The Open Future for Wireless Communications conference is organised by the Communications Innovation Institute in conjunction with the Cambridge-MIT Institute, and runs until Wednesday.

Topics: Networking

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