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FCC Unphased by UWB

Light Reading
LR Mobile News Analysis
Light Reading
3/24/2003

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says the prospect of ultrawideband (UWB) radios causing interference to third-generation (3G) handsets is insignificant.

A report released last week by the U.K.'s Radiocommunications Agency (RA) states there is a possibility that devices based around UWB technology could affect 3G handsets based on the universal mobile telecommunications system (UMTS) standard by flooding them with signal noise should the two devices be near one another. Such inteference could cause the 3G device to drop its connection to the base station (see Could UWB Kill UMTS Sessions? for the full story).

However, Ed Thomas, head of the FCC's office of engineering, says he thinks UWB devices are very unlikely to cause unacceptable interference with cellphones. While making it quite clear that he hasn't seen the British report, Thomas tells Unstrung: "Our conclusion is that there is no there no significant, meaningful interference to U.S. cellular services from ultrawideband."

He does, though, admit that UWB devices could cause interference in cellphones at the very edge of a coverage area that are receiving a weak signal from the base station, but only if both devices are in very close proximity.

"There's a certain probability that you'll get dropped calls when you are at the periphery of a coverage area anyway," Thomas adds.

The FCC legalized the use of UWB across 7.5 GHz of spectrum (3.1 GHz to 10.6 GHz) in February 2002. The technology, which works by transmitting radio pulses across multiple channels and offers data rates of up a few hundred megabits per second, has not been authorized for use in Europe or most of Asia.

AT&T Wireless Services Inc. (NYSE: AWE), which has committed to start rolling out UMTS in the U.S. by the end of 2004 (see AT&T Scales Back 3G), says it expects any interference problems between UWB and UMTS will have been ironed out by then.

"It's not a worry. We've got another year and a half until that [UMTS] is done," says Rich Blasi, AT&T Wireless spokesman. "Any issues should have been dealt with by then."

The other two major U.S carriers looking to eventually upgrade to UMTS have not yet publicly revealed rollout schedules.

Cingular Wireless has not yet announced any UMTS timetables, while a spokesperson for T-Mobile USA says the operator is waiting for more spectrum to be auctioned by the government before it commits to a UMTS strategy.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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