Could UWB Kill UMTS Sessions?

New research finds that ultrawideband radios could interfere with 3G UMTS networks

March 20, 2003

2 Min Read
Could UWB Kill UMTS Sessions?

Ultrawideband (UWB) radio has emerged as a new threat to the expensive 3G UMTS networks under construction across Europe, according to new research published by the U.K.’s Radiocommunications Agency, which says it could cause interference problems between the two types of net. The research casts a shadow over the prospects for the legalization of ultrawideband outside of the U.S., and therefore on the commercial potential for this emerging technology.

Ultrawideband uses a wide swath of spectrum to transmit low-powered, ultra-short radio pulses through the air, and is capable of transmitting data at several hundred Mbit/s over short distances. These systems are therefore considered suitable for high-data-rate applications, such as streaming media, and for use in battery-powered wireless data devices, such as camcorders.

This latest research is of particular concern because it finds that ultrawideband tranceivers can swamp a UMTS handset with noise and cause it to drop its connection with the base station. According to the research, this will almost certainly occur where the handset is 0.5 meters or less away from the ultrawideband device and could have an impact at distances of up to 2 meters.

The report says the potential for dropped calls is also dependent on the type of applications running on the handset and the ultrawideband device (errors are more likely when both devices are heavily loaded), as well as on other factors such as the distance of handset from the UMTS base station and on the aggregate number of ultrawideband devices in a given area.

European UMTS license holders are likely to seize on this research as evidence that more work needs to be done and safeguards introduced before the technology can be authorized for widespread use.

However, the scale of the problem is far from clear, and much of the concern at this point is speculative, because both technologies are relatively new and have not yet been deployed together in any meaningful way. Consequently, the researchers are now proposing a series of tests be carried out in real-world settings before drawing firm conclusions.

In the U.S., where the Federal Communications Commission authorized the use of ultrawideband back in February 2002, such tests have so far proved inconclusive, and wireless carriers and the ultrawideband community remain at loggerheads. The technology is currently illegal in Europe and other potentially large markets such as Japan and Korea.

For more in-depth analysis of ultrawideband, a special Wireless Oracle report on the subject is available here:

The Radiocommunications Agency’s study is available to download (zipped) here:
Impact of UWB on Third-Generation Telecommunications (3G)

— Gabriel Brown, Research Analyst, Unstrung

Editor’s note: Neither Light Reading nor Unstrung is affiliated with Oracle Corporation

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