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Ultrawideband gets a break

A new FCC study suggests that the wireless technology causes less interference for bandwidth neighbors than first believed--even less than laptops or microwaves.

A new study suggests a wireless technology called ultrawideband causes less interference for bandwidth neighbors than first believed.

In fact, common household appliances like laptops or microwave ovens are more of an interference threat than ultrawideband (UWB), according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) study.

The FCC approved UWB products for sale in the United States in February, setting limits on the signal's power to calm fears about possible interference with GPS (Global Positioning System). UWB product makers believe the limits were unnecessary and ultimately make UWB equipment less appealing to consumers.

David Hoover, a wireless analyst at the Precursor Group thinks the FCC findings will persuade federal regulators to increase the allowable strength of a UWB signal, something it throttled down when creating rules for UWB products in February.

"They seem to be moving their sights that way," he said.

UWB signals are short, powerful bursts of energy that travel through what is essentially a radio signal's "no man's land" that the FCC set aside in every swath of spectrum. The FCC-created dumping ground is meant for the weak radio signals most electronic devices unintentionally create when in operation.

The study stops short of making any recommendations to the FCC. "The (FCC) recognizes the growing importance of GPS in everyday life," Stephen K. Jones, an FCC researcher, wrote in the preamble to the study's findings. "However, the FCC is also committed to fostering the development of promising new radio communications technology."

Ultrawideband creates a wireless network capable of a 100mbps round-trip between devices that are about 30 feet apart. Analysts say the technology has potential--especially for the TV industry, which needs to find more bandwidth in its networks to meet a 2005 federal mandate to begin broadcasting bandwidth-sucking HDTV signals.

Cisco Systems and Texas Instruments are interested in UWB and have invested in start-up XtremeSpectrum. The company is now selling UWB chips to several unnamed device makers. It expects to see commercial products sometime next year.

"This is more proof that UWB doesn't interfere with GPS," said an XtremeSpectrum representative.

Mike Walker, a senior vice president of solutions development for @Road, which sells GPS services, said he wasn't surprised by the study's findings. He added that @Road might even be embracing UWB in future offerings.

"I'm not surprised the FCC said that," he said of the study.