The New Kid

Another wireless technology is moving into the neighborhood.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the July 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Just when you thought you had this Wi-Fi/Bluetooth wireless thing figured out, here comes Ultra Wide Band (UWB). Think of it as the wireless technology of the future: Ben Manny, director of Wireless Communications Lab for Intel, likens it to a really high-performance Bluetooth or, more accurately, a wireless USB 2.0.

Technically, UWB is a wireless communication technology that transmits data in short, low-powered pulses over a wide range of frequency spectrums. This differs from current wireless technology such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which operate under a single bandwidth.

To protect current wireless technology from interference, the FCC has implemented power restrictions on UWB that shorten the communication range to roughly 10 to 15 feet (they may gradually lift restrictions, but no one can predict when). Because of the short range, entrepreneurs who have just installed their Wi-Fi networks can take a deep breath-UWB won't replace Wi-Fi.

UWB will, however, enable entrepreneurs to throw away other current technologies. As just one example, "many business owners are deploying laptops because of the mobility factor," says Manny. "UWB would let them replace a docking station. [The laptop] could then wirelessly talk to the display and mouse but would still use 802.11 to connect to an access point."

Entrepreneurs could also use UWB as wireless backup drives, transferring data from a scanner or connecting with a camera for videoconferencing-all without wires.

Like USB 2.0, UWB boasts transfer rates of roughly 480Mbps, making it an impractical replacement for some Bluetooth applications. Using UWB to connect a wireless headset, which requires very little transfer data, would be like lighting a barbecue with a flamethrower-it's just not necessary.

Another caveat: Many current USB devices, such as travel lights and fans, use the physical connection as a power source. UWB can't do that. UWB is, however, interoperable with current USB connection software, so many current USB devices will still be useful (with an adapter, of course) as UWB products start trickling into the market. In fact, experts think UWB will probably just integrate into the mix, so people will use all these technologies together. Manny predicts the first officially approved and standardized UWB products will start hitting the marketplace in late 2005.


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