November 8, 2004 11:18 AM PST

U.K. to take tougher line on ultrawideband

Ultrawideband services are likely to be legalized soon in the United Kingdom, but with tighter restrictions than in the United States.

A report commissioned by communications regulator Ofcom apparently recommends that ultrawideband (UWB) should only be permitted in Britain if service providers take measures to prevent interference with other wireless technologies. Ofcom is the regulator for British communications industries, with responsibilities that include television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services.

"Ofcom has come to the conclusion that the economic benefits of Ultrawideband far outweigh the potential interference issues, but it plans to take a tougher stance on the technical specification under which UWB can operate," said a source familiar with the report.

3G fights for air
It is believed that 3G, or third-generation, operators have pushed for these tighter controls, claiming that their high-speed mobile networks could be disrupted by UWB. Unlike wireless technologies such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, which work in a relatively narrow bandwidth, ultrawideband operates over a wide range of frequency bands by sending narrow and low-power pulses. Because it uses a broader spectrum, lower power and pulsed data, it is capable of delivering wirelike performance, making it suitable for consumer electronics gizmos that require higher data transfer speeds.

The report, written by Mason Communications and DotEcon, is called "Value of UWB Personal Area Networking Services to the United Kingdom."

It is expected to be made public later this month, at which point Ofcom will seek comment from the industry. Because it is a third-party report, Ofcom is under no obligation to accept its recommendations, but a decision to reject such findings would be unusual.

Ultrawideband's method of spreading a low power transmission over spectrum used by other wireless technologies has led to concern that it could cause interference with other communications including advanced cellular networks.

Regulators address this by specifying a mask--a graph showing how much power a UWB transmitter can radiate in each area of the radio spectrum. Most power is concentrated in the central part of the graph--the inband portion--with much stricter restrictions on radiation in the outband part on either side.

American latitude
Two years ago, U.S. regulators provisionally approved ultrawideband with a mask that effectively restricted UWB transmissions to the same levels that ordinary nontransmitting consumer electronic equipment leaks in normal operation. In particular, care was taken to prevent interference with the weak signals encountered in GPS (Global Positioning System) satellite navigation services and other navigation systems. Although no UWB products are yet on the market in the United States, manufacturers report that preproduction tests show no significant interference with any services.

Ofcom is likely to allow the same inband power levels, but with even lower levels in the outband--which will include the bands used by 3G operators.

"Ofcom understands that UWB is a concern for some in the industry, and will take this into account when designing its own mask," the source said.

It's not yet clear whether these restrictions will hamper ultrawideband deployment in any way. Manufacturers are likely to have to adapt their equipment to comply with Ofcom's mask--should it indeed be implemented.

Early versions of the report seem to have been circulating in the industry ahead of its publication. Intel appeared to jump the gun last month when it issued a statement welcoming its publication, even though this isn't expected to take place until around Nov. 15.

"We agree with and support the conclusion that UWB has the potential to make substantial contributions to the U.K. economy, as it will in the U.S., over the next several years, and Intel believes that similar benefits are possible for countries worldwide," said Kevin Kahn, co-director of the Intel's Communications Technology Lab. "We also recognize that a great deal of additional work and evaluation will be required to make those worldwide benefits a reality."

Intel has been active in ultrawideband development, promotion and regulatory lobbying in the United States, although entrenched disagreements between the two major industry groups involved in standardization--Intel and Texas Instruments versus Motorola--have effectively halted efforts by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers to create a single standard.

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London. ZDNet UK's Rupert Goodwins contributed to this report.

 

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