Is Ultra Wideband the Future of Wireless Technology? Several readers recently requested that I talk a little bit about Ultra Wideband (UWB) technologies. So, in this edition of Networking UPDATE: Mobile & Wireless Edition, I want to discuss the history, features, and potential of UWB. The roots of UWB are in the early 1960s, during which time the notion of data transmission by pulse--rather than by the more common frequency transmission (which is popular today)--was born. Since this idea's inception, the technology has grown slowly as techniques and related hardware radio receivers have evolved. The technology didn't even receive its proper name, UWB, until the late 1980s. And prior to 1994, most UWB work was performed under US military classification, However, without classification since 1994, UWB technology has grown to the point at which it's now almost commercially viable. UWB permits the transmission of large amounts of data over multiple frequencies, using very low power, through data pulses. A UWB data pulse is extremely short in duration, but because the data pulses travel over many frequencies, the bandwidth potential is high. Current UWB transmits on frequencies between 3.1GHz and 10.1GHz. UWB devices in a certain area create a piconet (an almost identical approach to that of Bluetooth devices). Each device in the piconet relays UWB signals, thereby extending the range indefinitely. Because of this high-bandwidth pulse-modulation approach, UWB technology could feature data-transfer rates faster than 10GBps--about 1000 times faster than 802.11b. You might be thinking, "If UWB has been around for so long and it seems to be the Holy Grail of wireless connectivity, why don't we have it yet?" Unfortunately, several factors have slowed the adoption of UWB: - As I mentioned earlier, the pre-1994 military classification prevented any third-party development of hardware and components to support UWB. Without sufficient UWB devices deployed over a given area, the UWB range is limited. - Because UWB uses many licensed frequencies, FCC approval of UWB has been slow. Recently, the FCC has approved UWB for use in the United States, but approval is still pending in other countries. - Interference, an obvious concern, has been slowing the progression of UWB. Will data transmission over many frequencies interfere with other wireless technologies? Potentially, yes, but because the duration of transmission is so short, the possibility for interference is low. - UWB can potentially displace every popular wireless technology in use today, including Personal Area Networks (PANs--e.g., Bluetooth), wireless LANs (WLANs--e.g., 802.11b, 802.11a, 802.11g), and certainly wireless WANs (WWANs--e.g., General Packet Radio Service--GPRS, 1xRTT). So, many companies will resist the commercial adoption of this technology.
As you can see, the promise of UWB looms large, and the technology is gaining visibility and momentum in the market. When and where we'll begin to see commercial use of UWB remains unknown, but I've read some estimates that predict 67 million UWB devices will be in use by 2007. In the next Networking UPDATE: Mobile & Wireless Edition, I'll continue this discussion of UWB.