Electronic Design

Ultra-Wideband In Action

Ultra-Wideband has been one of the most controversial technologies over the past decade. With a standards battle that has remained deadlocked for nearly two years, UWB seems to stir passionate debate within the industry-and for good reason. UWB is one of the most promising technologies the industry has seen, and stakes are high for the winners.

The idea behind UWB is fairly simple. Extremely low-power and narrow signals are transmitted across a wide swath of spectrum. Unlike conventional radio systems that operate within a relatively narrow band, the UWB signal is actually below the "noise floor." Therefore, it doesn't interfere with other spectrum users. This spectral efficiency is very desirable, as spectrum has become a precious commodity.

While many still debate the standard, UWB applications are forging ahead. Indeed, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) certified the first commercial UWB chips last summer, paving the way for the first UWB-enabled consumer products in the U.S. The IEEE 802.15.3a task group, although not any closer to selecting a single technology for the UWB standard, seems to be agreeing to disagree. Proponents of competing technologies agree that the market should decide which is the best UWB solution for the industry. OEMs will do just that in 2005 and beyond.

Ever since the FCC certified the first UWB chip sets, OEMs have begun embedding wireless capability into a variety of consumer products, including HDTVs, set-top boxes, and laptops. With form factors such as mini-PCI and Compact Flash, new UWB solutions can be easily integrated into CE products that don't typically possess a standard interface. Module companies have embraced UWB, and they've begun to develop turnkey solutions that let OEMs/ODMs quickly and easily integrate UWB modules into their designs. This ultimately provides a wireless connection with a high data rate.

Just as important are the UWB-enabled handheld and mobile applications on the horizon. UWB data rates have been forecast as high as 1 Gbit/s and power consumption as low as 250 mW by 2005, enabling a new class of handheld/mobile applications. Consider a portable hard drive that could sync up to 512 Mbytes of data, photos, or movies in roughly five seconds. Consumers could then have a docking station at home and at work, and only need to carry a small hard drive-the size of a wallet-to always have access to their data. A cell phone that takes pictures or movies could wirelessly stream the content to a laptop or display. And an MP3 player could sync to a car's sound system and then sync again to a home-theater system, eliminating the need for multiple copies of MP3 files and disks.

The absence of an IEEE standard hasn't affected UWB's adoption. Clearly, there are different approaches to UWB. But the market will choose the technology that best meets its needs: high data rate, low power, and low cost. And while UWB has been discussed for years, as we all know, actions speak louder than words.

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