by Preston Gralla

Under Development: Data Communications Beyond Broadband

Nov 01, 20022 mins

WI-FI wireless networking may be all the rage today, but a broadband wireless standard known as ultrawideband (UWB) may one day become the technology that finally frees computers from wires and clears the way for easy, high-speed data synching among laptops, PDAs, desktops, and a variety of other consumer and enterprise devices.

Rather than transmit over a discrete frequency band as does Wi-Fi (802.11) networking, UWB uses brief, low-power pulses across a wide spectrum?up to 10GHz worth. This offers several benefits, says Kevin Kahn, Intel fellow and director of communications and interconnect technology for Intel Labs, which has been researching the technology. First, because data travels across a wide spectrum, the bandwidth is tremendous?”multiple hundreds of megabits per second at a distance of four to five meters,” Kahn says. Second, because the technology uses little power, it is ideally suited for portable devices.

“The most obvious use is for wireless LANs in constrained environments where people can be close to the base stations,” surmises Charles Golvin, senior analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. “It could also be used for high-speed synchronization between PDAs, laptops and cell phones.” Golvin adds that it could be ideal for use in manufacturing and warehousing?tags could be put on palettes, for example. Beyond data transfer, the technology can “see” through walls and solid objects, so it may be used in rescue operations as a type of life-saving radar.

Some companies are readying niche products based on UWB. For example, Time Domain’s version of the technology is currently part of a prototype radio that could determine the precise position and condition of stored ammunition for the U.S. Navy.

Despite the obvious benefits, widespread use of UWB applications is several years away. Intel’s Kahn notes that it will most likely be two years before there is even an agreed-upon UWB standard, and then it will take some time before commercial products become available.