Ultrawideband legal in EU within six months

EXCLUSIVE: High-bandwidth, short-range wireless technology finally gets the Euro nod

Ultrawideband is to be legalised across Europe within the next six months, ZDNet UK has learned.

The short-range, high-bandwidth technology — which promises speeds of up to 1Gbps — has until now been illegal outside the US. Its status has now been reversed at a meeting on the 4th and 5th December of the Radio Spectrum Committee (RSC), a European Commission body which can mandate spectrum usage across the continent.

Ofcom's chief technologist, Professor William Webb, told ZDNet UK on Friday that the UK regulator was "delighted" at the approval of ultrawideband (UWB). He pointed out that if the RSC approves a document "it automatically becomes EC law" and said the decision to mandate acceptance of UWB across all European states within the next six months was taken at an RSC meeting earlier this week. Although no officials from the RSC were prepared to comment on the record, sources close to the deliberations confirmed that the decision had been taken.

"We think it's important to allow as many technologies to be tried in the marketplace as possible," said Webb, adding that UWB "has some potentially unique characteristics".

Ultrawideband uniquely combines very low power across bands many gigahertz wide to reuse frequencies allocated to other users without causing significant interference. The technology, which operates at ranges of up to 10 metres and was developed by companies such as Intel, Texas Instruments, HP and Nokia, is most widely marketed in the US by the WiMedia Alliance. The Federal Communications Commission in the US only allows UWB under strict conditions that limit how much power it can radiate across the bands it covers — typically less than the normal noise emitted by ordinary, non-wireless electronic equipment.

Ofcom said in March that it would impose even tighter restrictions on UWB. The regulator also told ZDNet UK at the time that it was predicting an announcement on the availability of UWB by the end of this year.

On Friday, sources confirmed to ZDNet UK that the restrictions put forward by the EC would indeed be more rigorous than those imposed in the US, although they would not be so restrictive as to make it impossible for some global harmonisation of UWB devices — a stance which would have angered the manufacturers of such equipment.

It is understood that the committee decision to allow UWB was based on a far from unanimous majority, with some Scandinavian countries and France opposing the proposal. UWB opponents are mostly established band users who claim that high densities of UWB usage will raise the interference level enough to affect their existing and future services. However, tests in the US have not found any plausible scenarios where such interference is a significant factor.

The decision still has to be formally approved by the EC, and an announcement is expected within the next few months. This delay is not expected to prevent manufacturers currently developing UWB products from preparing them for European availability.