Industry Canada has opened a public consultation on the introduction of ultra-wideband (UWB) wireless products and services into the Canadian market, asking industry constituents for comments on a wide range of issues. The consultation comes nearly 18 months after the department said it would open up such a discussion (RoW, Oct. 7/03) and three years after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authorized limited commercial introduction of UWB products in the United States.  Ultra-wide band is an emerging wireless technology that promises to deliver very high data rates at short distances, making it an ideal protocol to embed in a wide variety of devices such as computers, digital cameras and home entertainment systems.  There are a number of concerns associated with the authorization of UWB products, with the most significant being interference. Existing licensees are worried that if the government allows for UWB introduction, these new products, which would operate across a very large swath of spectrum, would cause harmful interference to traditional radiocommunication services. Opponents would prefer to see Industry Canada assign specific frequencies in which UWB products would operate. Proponents of UWB are, however, equally concerned that conventional radiocommunication systems, with much higher-power emissions, would cause unwanted interference to UWB services (see box for concerns highlighted by the department in the notice).  Kurt Scherf, VP of research at Parks Associates, says depending on whom you talk to you will get diametrically opposed answers. The air navigation and mobile phone industries in the U.S. believe interference would be too great, while UWB proponents say that simply won’t be the case. "Given the very, very severe power limitations that were placed on the UWB products themselves (by the FCC), they operate at a level that is below the noise floor for wireless systems, so they should be undetectable," he says.  The difficulty in allowing for the introduction of such products is finding appropriate spectrum and implementing product operating parameters that would limit harmful interference on both. In the U.S., the FCC allocated 7.5 GHz of spectrum (3.1 GHz to 10.6 GHz) in which UWB could operate.  Ultra-wideband can be used in a number of different products, including military and commercial applications such as ground penetrating radar and vehicular radar systems. But the most promising is as a cable replacement technology for the computer peripheral industry and the consumer electronics market.  A recent report from Park Associates estimates that product shipments will grow from about 50 million at the end of 2003 to nearly 150 million at the end of 2008. Revenue derived from annual UWB chipsets is expected to surpass the US$1-billion mark by the end of 2009. The report notes that the PC and peripheral market will dominate product shipments early, but the consumer electronics industry – both for fixed and mobile products – will catch up going forward.  Despite the apparent potential of UWB, a battle over standards at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has slowed down the process. Report on Wireless previously reported that the battle is between those supporting multi-band OFDM on one hand and others supporting direct sequence (RoW, Aug. 24/04).  Scherf says that there’s a lot at stake with UWB technology development as the PC industry and the consumer electronics industry try to figure out ways to make money from this emerging technology. "With so much at stake, the standards setting process under the IEEE has become a real stalemate between a couple of different sides with different views on how UWB physically should operate within the parameters set out by the FCC," he adds.  This standards battle will cause delays in product introductions, but Scherf doesn’t believe it will have too much of an impact. "My estimate is that it may have pushed it back six to eight months. We’re going to see products emerge towards the end of this year or early next year, which is about where I had predicted that to happen a couple of years ago. I think both sides have taken their time to build up their core group of allies and those companies are going to be among the first I would expect to deploy the actual UWB products themselves," he says.  Despite the emergence of two primary groups fighting for control in the standards process, that hasn’t stopped other companies from bringing out their own version of ultra-wideband. Earlier this month, Pulse-LINK Inc., a California-based fabless semiconductor play, introduced its own Continuous Wave (CWave) UWB architecture.  The Cwave architecture announcement coincides with the release of an evaluation kit that allows demonstrations with commercially available hardware. The company plans to demonstrate its evaluation kit during the month of March in several locations across the United States.  The Parks Associates VP says the Canadian government should follow the FCC’s decision on UWB and let market forces decide. Scherf says had the FCC enacted rules regarding OFDM transmission or preventing OFDM, for example, that would have limited the attractiveness of the technology. He credits the laissez-faire attitude of FCC chair Michael Powell in terms of setting the rules and letting the market decide. Powell is to resigned his seat as the top telecommunications and broadcast regulator next month.  "I think in the end, the suggestion that I would give to the Canadians is probably keep things very similar to what’s happened in the U.S. because I think if you allow market forces to compete, the best product is going to emerge," says Scherf.  European and Asian telecommunications regulators are soon expected to make decisions regarding UWB, and ultra-wideband product developers will continue to adapt their products to follow guidelines set out by other international jurisdictions. "Obviously, the technology developers need to heed whatever the rules are, and so I think in the end a really flexible solution is going to emerge that’s going to fit the requirements across different geographies, but also provide for interoperability, again if market forces are left along to determine this thing," Scherf says.