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Commercializing Ultrawideband

June 05, 2004 —

Experts Predict Commercial Applications of Ultrawideband Technology in Three Years

A University of Southern California survey of academic and industry experts finds that commercial applications of the Ultrawideband (UWB) radio technology will begin to roll out within three years. And experts predict that the new technology will first be used for range-finding applications and wireless local area networks for computers.

"Everyone is waiting to see that first consumer product come out," said Robert A. Scholtz, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering professor of electrical engineering who has pioneered UWB technology. Judging from his survey, the world won’t have to wait much longer.

UWB works by sending out short and very weak radio pulses spread across a huge range of the frequency spectrum, while conventional radio signals use a carrier wave confined to a small frequency range of the radio spectrum.

After extensive study of whether UWB devices could interfere with broadcast media or global positioning satellites, the Federal Communications approved the new technology for unlicensed use under strict power limitations for a large portion of the radio spectrum in a decision published in May 2002.

Scholz presented the preliminary results of his survey last month to world UWB conference held in Kyoto, Japan. The 89 experts in academia, the business community and government all over the world who responded were asked whether five possible applications would be viable business applications within the next three years.

The group found the two most likely commercial applications would be high-speed wireless local area networks that would have much higher data transfer rates than current Wi-Fi 802.11technology and precise range-finding systems.

Close behind in the survey were applications to use UWB technology to “look” through opaque materials, radio frequency tags and intrusion alarms.

Scholtz also asked which of the two alternative competing UWB formats now being evaluated by a standards group from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), was superior. Respondents were almost evenly split between a format being developed by Intel and Texas Instruments and another from Motorola and about a quarter of them acknowledged a financial interest in one or another of the formats.

Scholtz asked the group to grade the difficulty of the pending challenges to build various hardware elements for UWB systems. While UWB uses conventional radio signals, most of the current design procedures both for computer chips and broadcast antennas would need drastic revisions to function.

In general, the experts thought meeting those challenges for most UWB hardware was now possible with sufficient effort. This such as a high quality full-band antenna, a Local Area Network design, a unitary full-band transmitter, a 500 MHz all-digital receiver and a hybrid, analog-digital full band receiver. But they rated another desirable element; an all-digital full frequency receiver as by far the most difficult problem.

The group surveyed included 29 professors, 27 advanced students; 12 government specialists and 18 industry representatives, plus three anonymous correspondents. Most were from North America (47) and Asia (27), with a fewer number (10) from Europe and other areas. (5)

Scholtz is a communications specialist who holds the Fred H. Cole chair at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering's department of electrical engineering and directs the Schools UltRa lab, a leading world center in UWB research. His work both theoretical and practical over the past decade has been widely recognized as central in the field.

The complete study can be downloaded at the UltRa laboratory website http://ultra.usc.edu/  as a pdf file.

-- Eric Mankin