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UWB at Mercy of Regulators

Regulators have the ultrawideband community by the short and curlies, and their decisions in the coming years will determine whether the emerging high-speed technology has a mass market commercial future.

So says Gabriel Brown, Wireless Oracle research analyst and author of "UWB – Commercializing Free Spectrum," which is available now.

UWB is fast, cheap, secure, low-powered, and takes advantage of free spectrum (though not in a dirty or nasty way), so it sounds like a surefire winner. However, its commercial use is currently only legal in the U.S., following a decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) early in 2002 to allow its restricted use in the 3.1GHz to 10.6GHz range. "Despite positive noises from European and Japanese spectrum authorities, they are not likely to be rushed into relaxing their rules," says Brown. "At the European level the matter is further complicated by the need to harmonize spectrum policy across many different national authorities."

Given these barriers, Brown has estimated the market for UWB chipsets to be a modest $525 million in 2007 (see Ultrawideband: $525M in 2007).

So developers are hedging their bets, and, while driving the standards process as hard as possible (see Coalition Cranks Up UWB), are developing products that will enable "short-range, high-speed wireless networking for consumer electronics. This looks a smart move, given that it’s a high volume market that isn’t adequately served by existing commercial wireless systems," states Brown. This focus will give the developers a large enough market to target while waiting to see if the technology can be deployed on a more global basis.

UWB's speed is its particular strength, though it is limited by its short range. Short range in this case means under 10 meters, while high speed means up to a kick-ass 100 Mbit/s -- making it a prime technology for the delivery of high-quality streaming media, such as high definition TV or video. "In these instances, UWB is a cable replacement technology for the devices that tend to use mains power, such as set top boxes, DVD players, TiVos, printers, TVs, speakers, games consoles, and LCD projectors," writes Brown. And while 802.11 systems are capable of delivering some of these applications, he notes, quality would suffer.

UWB also has an upper hand over 802.11 in terms of security. "It is primarily because of the inherent security of UWB that it has been used by the military to date," says the research analyst, adding that 802.11 has been outlawed from the Pentagon because of security concerns that would not arise with UWB. However, Brown does not see security being a critical USP (unique selling point) in consumer electronics. "We don’t see that UWB's advantage in security over, say, 802.11, will translate to any particular commercial advantage in the consumer electronics market… [which] isn’t sufficiently bothered about security" for it to matter.

But not all the companies playing in this nascent market are pitching at the consumer electronics sector. One particular maverick is Pulse-Link, which is developing a UWB system to take on 802.11 at distances up to 100 meters. The company’s CEO, Bruce Watkins, told the Wireless Oracle that “commercially, I have no interest in being a Bluetooth on steroids. There are a variety of things that can be done with UWB and I’m interested in wireless LAN.”

Watkins claims he will be able to demonstrate data rates of up to 400 Mbit/s over 10 meters and still achieve nearly 7 Mbit/s at 100 meters range. Short-range UWB systems that will conform to the emerging standard being formulated by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) "drop their data rates very quickly after 10 meters," says Brown, while 802.11a wireless LAN systems don't reach much farther than 50 meters, and 802.11b peters out at about 80 meters.

The report looks in greater depth at Pulse-Link and the other emerging companies, as well as the regulatory, technical, and financial aspects of this wireless technology.

— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung Editor’s note: Neither Light Reading nor Unstrung is affiliated with Oracle Corporation

The market prospects for UWB are analyzed in-depth by the latest report from the Wireless Oracle, “UWB – Commercializing Free Spectrum,” which is available now for $400. An annual subscription to the Wireless Oracle is ordinarily $1,250, but is currently available at the special introductory price of $899. For more information, including subscription information and research examples, visit www.wireless-oracle.com. An annual subscription includes access to the catalogue that stretches back to February 2002. Topics analyzed in recent months include: "The 'X' Factor – Competitive Positioning in the CDMA Infrastructure Market"; "Survival of the Slimmest – Competitive Positioning in GSM and UMTS Markets"; "Wireless Routers – A Market Waiting to Happen?"; and "Wireless VPNs – Security and Convenience for Enterprise Data."

standardsarefun 12/5/2012 | 12:46:05 AM
re: UWB at Mercy of Regulators anyone who knows anything about security (and I admit I know very little!) should be "concerned" when people talk about inherent security of any physical layer. UWB is probably a "bit hard" to hack right now since no-one has the receiver chips but as soon as we have systems that can be used then the physical layer security will become a myth.

UWB will then need good old technologies like authentication and encryption just like any other boring radio technology (CDMA, TDMA, GSM, 802.11x, Flarion, etc. etc.)

P.S. Corrected error in subject line (oops)
standardsarefun 12/5/2012 | 12:46:05 AM
re: UWB at Mercy of Regulators anyone who knows anything about security (and I admit I know very little!) should be "concerned" when people talk about inherent security of any physical layer. UWB is probably a "bit hard" to hack right now since no-one has the receiver chips but as soon as we have systems that can be used then the physical layer security will become a myth.

UWB will then need good old technologies like authentication and encryption just like any other boring radio technology (CDMA, TDMA, GSM, 802.11x, Flarion, etc. etc.)
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