The Future Arrives As Ultra-Wideband (UWB) Becomes Reality

As the Consumer Electronics Show is kicking off 2005 in Las Vegas, one of the stars promises to be the emerging technology of Ultra-Wideband (UWB). UWB is wireless networking that is used for a multitude of electronic components and devices ranging from high definition TV, portable digital devices, to your traditional computer. UWB promises to blow away the current home wireless connections we are used to.

How will we use UWB? UWB could replace all of the wires and cables used in a home entertainment system. Your portable MP3 player could stream the audio to high-quality speakers placed anywhere in the room. A digital camcorder or still camera can play back the pictures on your TV without a wire connection. Your large LCD or plasma TV screen can be hung on any wall with no wires to attach. The wired USB connected peripherals could become obsolete as wireless UWB effectively makes the connections. That means you could set your mobile computer on a desk and be instantly connected to your printer, scanner and VoIP headset. In a word, wires may become a thing of the past.

UWB is seeking to make the “unwired” home a reality. To make this possible, UWB provides the vehicle to connect television programs, movies, games, output from hand-held devices, etc. without interference from other wireless transmissions. Current technologies have not been fast enough to route high bandwidth applications around the home without the use of wires or cables. Now the means exist with low cost, low power, high speed UWB.

The effective operating range for UWB is approximately ten meters or thirty feet. In this range, ultra-wideband operates across a wide range of frequency spectrum through the transmission of a series of very narrow and low power pulses. This provides much less interference than the narrowband radio designs. By incorporating UWB with the 802.15.3 PAN standard, it will provide a home wireless multimedia network that supports multiple devices without interference with other UWB networks of the neighbors.

There are other apparent advantages to the UWB technology. Since the UWB transceivers operate with low power, short burst radio waves, they are very easy and cheap to build compared to the traditional transceivers. The UWB systems consume around 1/10,000th of the power that a cell phone consumes. This makes UWB easily usable in small devices like cell phones and PDAs where small power consumption is a big advantage. Because of this low power operation, there will be little interference with other systems. In a recent test, an ultra-wideband transceiver yielded fantastic performance while operating in close proximity to an 802.11b network, a cordless phone, a microwave oven and a cellular/PCS phone.

The Federal Trade Commission (FCC) recently granted certification to Freescale Semiconductor, Inc. for commercial use of the UWB technology. Freescale Semiconductor, Inc. and Universal Scientific Industrial Co., Ltd. Are collaborating on a UWB-enabled 1394 module and are the first to harness the benefits of ultra-wideband and the 1394 standard. They expect to sell the module to leading consumer electronic manufacturers for use in wireless LCD televisions and a variety of home media devices. Other companies, such as Intel, are working on different versions of the ultra-wideband module.

What had been speculation is now moving into the production stage in 2005. The way we use wireless will be rapidly changing when the standardization for ultra-wideband technology becomes set and all the devices are able to take advantage of a universal playing field. The winner will be the consumer as an exciting new world opens up for UWB wireless applications.