Swimming against the wireless tide

While most companies are adding the latest wireless breakthroughs to any device imaginable, one player is actually looking to use a wireless technology over wires.

Ben Charny Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Ben Charny
covers Net telephony and the cellular industry.
Ben Charny
3 min read
While most companies are adding the latest wireless breakthroughs to any device imaginable, one player is actually looking to use a wireless technology over wires.

PulseLink is now working with ultrawideband (UWB), a method of delivering information without wires that was approved for commercial use in February by the Federal Communications Commission. On Friday, PulseLink filed the last of more than a hundred patents for a development that lets UWB work over the wired television networks used by cable TV operators.

Those familiar with PulseLink say the company might be the first ever to make a wireless delivery technique work in the closed environment like a wire or fiber-optic cable.

Analysts say the technology has potential--especially for the television industry, which needs to find more bandwidth in its networks in order to meet a 2005 federal mandate to begin broadcasting bandwidth-sucking HDTV signals.

"It'll get more bang for your buck out of the existing cable band," said David Hoover, an analyst with investor-side research company Precursor Group.

UWB, one of the newest wireless technologies for commercial businesses, works differently than other wireless technologies. Traditional wireless devices use radio waves to deliver telephone calls, e-mails or a Web page. The waves are assigned small areas of spectrum--typically 6MHz--to travel through on their way to a cell phone, laptop or PDA (personal digital assistant). UWB, on the other hand, delivers the same services by using low-powered pulses that spread over hundreds of megahertz of bandwidth. UWB pulses do not create unruly interference with other waves, though, because they are so low-power, said PulseLink founder John Santhoff.

Over wires, it will create a "ghost network" capable of delivering as much as 1 gigabit of information over bandwidth that most wired network operators haven't been able to use, he said.

"It's like sub-zero second Morse Code," Santhoff said. "We're creating a ghost network on top of the old network that doesn't interfere with it and doesn't interact with it. If you don't have our equipment, you can't see the communications there."

Santhoff said the company has so far only created a miniature version of a cable TV network it made using UWB in its labs. The company has yet to perform a public demonstration, though.

Military roots
On Feb. 14, the FCC gave the go ahead for commercial use of UWB.

The lobbying and wrangling prior to the FCC's nod mostly involved the U.S. military. The government had developed the technology and was the first to use it "because of its covert nature," Santhoff said.

The government and mobile phone carriers say the signals are so powerful they could cause disruptive interference to their wireless operations. The FCC took the complaints into account. And, to avoid the spectrum used by the military and companies, the commission set limits on the radio frequencies that UWB can broadcast in.

Device makers working with UWB are now using it as a way to wirelessly connect computers, televisions, laptops, DVD players and other devices that are located a few feet from each other, said Rajeev Chand, senior equity research analyst, with Rutberg & Co., a San Francisco-based investment bank.

Chand said it's likely UWB will stay wireless in the near future.

"We continue to believe near-term applications for UWB are in the consumer-electronics devices," he said.