FCC Studying New Wideband Wireless Technology

BOSTON (05/15/2000) - While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has hailed the use of ultrawideband wireless technology as potentially providing "enormous benefits for public safety, consumers and businesses," the island kingdom of Tonga in the Pacific Ocean will actually reap such benefits long before the technology becomes available in the U.S.

Last week, the FCC adopted a proposal to consider use of ultrawideband (UWB) technology on an unlicensed basis. But the commission said it will require further testing to ensure that UWB signals don't interfere with services such as the satellite-based Global Positioning System.

As its name implies, UWB has the potential to provide short-range, high-speed wireless data transmissions that could make access to Web pages over the air as fast as a wired connection would be. The technology would achieve that by spreading signals over a broad swath of the frequency spectrum, including the portion of the band used by GPS satellites.

Ralph Petroff, chairman of Time Domain Inc., a Huntsville, Alabama-based company that has championed UWB, said at last week's NetWorld/Interop conference in Las Vegas that the new technology has the potential to deliver "megabits of information at microwatts" of power. Petroff said he believes UWB could "ease the spectrum crunch" in the U.S. for wireless users, but not until the federal government finishes tests on the interference issue.

However, Tonga is so remote that it doesn't have to worry about such interference problems, according to Dewayne Hendricks, CEO at the Dandin Group in Fremont, California.

Hendricks said Dandin has an agreement with Tonga to completely revamp the island country's communications system by replacing wired telephone and Internet access with UWB and spread-spectrum wireless services. Work is due to start this year, but Hendricks didn't say when the project is expected to be finished. Nevertheless, he claimed that Tonga should be "the first country on the planet to have a totally wireless communications system."

In its announcement last week, the FCC said the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Telecommunications Information Administration will conduct the UWB tests in this country. All of the test results are scheduled to be submitted by Oct. 30.

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