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FCC Ducks UWB Decision

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC)'s Deputy Chief of the Office of Engineering and Technology, Julius Knapp, has ducked a crucial decision over ultrawideband technology that could have swung the vote at next week’s Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) 802.15.3a standards meeting in Singapore, to judge from an email sent by Knapp to several UWB bigwigs last night.

At issue is whether the multiband OFDM (MB-OFDM) proposal for an ultrawideband radio standard (capable of 110 Mbit/s over a distance of 10 meters) put before the 802.15.3a comittee by the MultiBand OFDM Alliance (MBOA) last July complies with strict FCC regulations.

At that meeting the MB-OFDM proposal, backed by Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), and others, won majority support in the standard group’s first down-select vote, but failed to win the 75 percent required to exclude a competing proposal from XtremeSpectrum Inc. (XSI) and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT).

Shortly after losing the vote, Xtreme and Motorola filed a request for a declaratory ruling with the FCC, intended to ascertain its view on the legality of MB-OFDM (see UWB Caught on the Hop), which sparked some lively speculation throughout the UWB community about the possible outcome.

Now, it seems, the FCC has decided it doesn't want get caught in the middle and has opted out of the hotseat.

“It is premature to make any determination as to the appropriate measurement methods for particular signals, because this matter is under active discussion in IEEE," wrote the FCC's Knapp in his email. "In this regard, we have no immediate plans to respond to the XSI/Motorola request for a declaratory ruling.”

However, in a comment that appears to leave the door open for future challenges to MB-OFDM by Xtreme and Motorola, Knapp continued:

“We urge that IEEE perform technical analyses to ensure that any UWB standard it develops will not cause levels of interference beyond that already anticipated by the rules. This information will be needed to support any necessary FCC rules interpretations or other appropriate action for the chosen standard.

“We recommend that IEEE proceed with its standards development process and that the committee address any questions to us at a later time when it has formed a specific proposal,” finished Knapp.

The upshot is that both camps now claim FCC support.

Wisair Ltd. and Staccato Communications Inc., for example (two startups at the heart of the MB-OFDM group) have issued press releases saying their chipsets have successfully passed FCC compliance testing in a private lab commissioned for the purpose (see FCC Approves Wisair UWB and Staccato Claims FCC Compliance).

Meanwhile, an Xtreme Spectrum spokesperson says they don't expect MB-OFDM will pass the confirmation vote next week and argues that the issue should be referred to the IEEE 802.18 (regulatory) and IEEE 802.19 (coexistence) committees, both of which could provide guidance to 802.15.3a.

Roll on, Singapore.

— Gabriel Brown, Research Analyst, Unstrung

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