Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 2/09/2002UWB is going to be a hot topic. This new radio system combines very low power, very high bandwidth and the uncanny ability to act as very precise radar.

Monday 2/09/2002
UWB is going to be a hot topic. This new radio system combines very low power, very high bandwidth and the uncanny ability to act as very precise radar. But it doesn't fit into the way ordinary radio works -- it doesn't have a frequency, instead scattering tiny parcels of energy throughout the whole radio spectrum. This is causing some concern, especially among people who rely on existing radio systems. Some, like satellite navigation and aeronautical safety and guidance, use very low levels of power indeed, and the worry that a UWB-equipped laptop will cause dangerous interference is hardly unreasonable. But there's a great deal of nonsense being spoken. "We might have to ban all laptops" says one spokesman for the CAA, "as cabin crew can't be expected to know which ones have UWB and which ones don't". Well, no. Likewise, cabin crew don't know which PDAs have cellphones built in and which ones don't, but so far nobody's raised an eyebrow over that. The solution is obvious. If a UWB device is to be approved for use on aircraft, then it has to be able to detect a signal on a special channel -- one that says "You're in a safety critical area, so shut up". Alternatively, the aircraft could have UWB detectors that trigger the attendant call button if someone in a seat turns on their radiating gadget. And if UWB can't be detected, then it's not likely to cause any problems. Lots of solutions, and the quicker people start thinking laterally about the problems then the sooner we'll have the right one. And that won't involve banning everything that moves.