FCC Weighs Ultrawideband Wireless Use

BOSTON (05/20/2000) - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) earlier this month confirmed that it will consider approving the unlicensed use of ultrawideband technology, which it said could potentially provide "enormous benefits for public safety, consumers and businesses."

The FCC said the proposal could "pave the way for a vast array of new products," including wideband wireless data systems. As its name implies, ultrawideband (UWB) has the potential to provide short-range, high-speed wireless data transmissions, which could make wireless access to the Internet as fast as wired connections by spreading signals over a broad swath of the frequency spectrum instead of a single fixed frequency.

Ralph Petroff, chairman of Time Domain Corp., a Huntsville, Alabama-based company that has championed UWB, said the technology has the potential to deliver "megabits of information at microwatts" of power.

Jim Lovett, director of strategic policies at Palo Alto, California-based startup Fantasma Networks Inc., said the technology has a "giant advantage" over other broadband wireless systems because it "conveys the most megabits at the lowest cost." Fantasma plans to develop household wireless systems based on UWB.

Interference Concerns

But the FCC said it will only approve widespread use of UWB if ongoing tests determine that it doesn't interfere with other systems. The FCC is especially concerned about the U.S. Department of Defense's Global Positioning System (GPS), which is used by airlines around the world for navigation and by the military to direct "smart" weapons.

The Pentagon views UWB wireless transmission as a "significant technology," but it wants to make sure its use doesn't degrade GPS signals, a senior Defense Department official said.

Petroff, speaking at the Networld/Interop 2000 conference earlier this month in Las Vegas, dismissed the notion that UWB will interfere with GPS. Time Domain transmits "millionths of a watt over the 2-GHz [GPS band]," he said. "If we interfere with GPS, we don't have a business."

Lovett said Fantasma is so concerned about interference with the GPS band that it "forswears use of GPS" frequencies in the UWB products it develops.

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