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UWB: From the Lab to Your Pad

LR Mobile Column
LR Mobile Column
LR Mobile Column
5/21/2004

Whoa! Did someone slip Kool-Aid into my coffee? That could be one explanation for why I’ve been so seduced by the promise of ultrawideband (UWB). A technology that has the potential to seep right into our everyday lives – just like a good strong cup of joe.

In a recent Unstrung Insider research report I wrote that the market for UWB could be bigger than 802.11 wireless LAN and Bluetooth combined – even though these products aren't even in production yet (see UWB Startups Gone Wild).

I know what you're thinking: Gabriel's drunk one too many FrappaMoccaChinos again and he's having a funny turn.

But I'm not kidding and this is why:

More than any other wireless technology available today -- apart from perhaps the ubiquitous cellphone -- UWB has the potential to be used in huge numbers of devices, in both the corporate and consumer world. These little radios could soon be popping up in everything from your toaster to your iPod to the security badge that gets you into your office everyday.

So what’s so great about UWB? For starters, it’s utterly fascinating technology (in a propeller-head kind of way). UWB is different from other radio technologies because it transmits large amounts of data over several channels very quickly.

UWB is exciting because it uses simpler and higher performance (read cheaper, lower-power, and smaller) RF-to-digital conversion techniques than conventional narrowband radios used in most wireless LAN, Bluetooth, and cellular devices -- which, as noted, makes it suitable for a huge range of devices. The only catch is that, at high data rates, UWB is limited to relatively short distances.

Even given these range limitations, by combining UWB with some kind of mesh networking capability, all of sudden (well, at some unspecified point in the future) you’re talking about one totally tricked out home entertainment system, or a very useful addition to the corporate notebook PC.

Sure, there are still some issues to overcome. For example, it would help if there were a well defined, universally accepted PHY (RF part) and MAC (Media Access Control) standard [ed. note: Groan... not this again… Yawn… Zzzzzz...]. See UWB in Limbo, UWB Standards Split?, and UWB: Lord of the PHYs for more on the UWB standards saga.

And yes, we’re going to have to wait and see if this stuff actually works as promised. But if it does... Well, UWB has the potential to be a pervasive technology like the telephone, the Internet or, er, coffee. In ten years time we'll look back and wonder how people lived without it.

— Gabriel Brown, Chief Analyst, Unstrung Insider

A new report – Ultrawideband: Spectrum for Free – is available as part of an annual subscription to the monthly Unstrung Insider, priced at $1,350. Annual subscription includes 12 monthly issues. Individual reports are available for $900. Ultrawideband: Spectrum for Free may be previewed here.

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