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Ultra-wideband players look for global footprint

Posted: 10 May 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:STMicroelectronics? UWB? consumer electronic? multimedia? communication?

In the wake of the Federal Communications Commission's formal approval of ultra-wideband technology deployment in the United States, UWB's proponents are now pursuing similar regulatory endorsements for the technology in Asia and Europe.

Startup XtremeSpectrum Inc. on Monday (May 6) announced the appointment of Veronica Haggart, former director of Motorola's regulatory affairs, as vice president of strategic relations, responsible for strategies in key markets in Japan, Asia, Europe and the Americas. XtremeSpectrum claims to have kicked off a number of initiatives, including informal coalitions with other technology vendors, to promote UWB technology overseas.

Meanwhile, in Europe, STMicroelectronics disclosed that it has been operating an ultra-wideband R&D program with several unnamed European partnersmostly research institutesfor two years. Gerard Fargere, director of the wireless lab and access road map for advanced systems technology at STMicroelectronics, said he believes the program is "one of the largest, or even the largest, R&D project on UWB technology in Europe" and added that the company is devoting further resources to the project.

The disclosures follow the FCC's formal approval on April 22 of a plan to allocate unlicensed spectrum between 3.1GHz and 10.6GHz to UWB technology. The FCC, by unanimous vote, had authorized the marketing and operation of UWB devices back in February.

Leveraging interest

XtremeSpectrum is working to leverage the strong interest it has already garnered from leading Japanese consumer electronics manufacturers, according to Chris Fisher, the company's vice president of sales and marketing. "We are busy expanding a global footprint for UWB, first in Asia, particularly in Japan, and then in Europe," he said.

Representatives from XtremeSpectrum, Texas Instruments, Intel, Sony, Sharp and Panasonic recently met in Tokyo to draft a strategy for prodding Japan's Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) to act on UWB, Fisher said. The companies want to see the ministry begin the formal process necessary to approve the use of unlicensed spectrum for UWB technology in Japan.

It's not expected to be a quick sell: Fisher pointed out that the regulatory approval process in Japan is not nearly as open or as deterministic as the FCC's. "But based on all indications in Japan, the MPT is more than likely to follow what the FCC has done, and the approval is likely to come no sooner than 12 months but no later than 24 months from now," he said.

Japanese consumer electronics companies as well as digital video chip companies such as STMicroelectronics have a vested interest in UWB, said Philippe Rouzet, director of broadband wireless LAN advanced systems technology at ST. UWB is "key communication technology, in particular for multimedia systems," Rouzet said.

Proponents claim UWB technology could be ideal for next-generation physical-layer (PHY) chips for high-rate, short- to medium-range wireless home networking. They like UWB's potentially low-cost implementation; low-power consumption; high throughput, enabled by the wide bandwidth used; and accurate positioning information.

ST's Fargere predicted that UWB could serve as a PHY for a yet-to-be-determined Bluetooth 2.0. UWB is also a good candidate for the next-generation PHY in the emerging IEEE 802.15.3, a high-rate wireless PAN technology called WiMedia, he said.

View from the handset

Mobile-handset vendors are also closely monitoring UWB developments. "Nokia follows UWB with interest" but isn't prepared to move on the technology yet, said Heikki Ahava, vice president for research and standardization at Nokia Mobile Phones. "We don't see it as competing with current technologies but as potentially complementing current technologies in cases that remain to be defined in the future."

Saying the course of UWB adoption in Europe is too early to call, Ahava cautioned that UWB will have to travel a long and bumpy regulatory road in European markets. Even in the United States, he noted, "the FCC has recognized that any benefits brought by UWB might be outweighed if UWB devices were to cause interference to licensed services and other important radio operations."

At a workshop held in Mainz, Germany last month on the introduction of UWB services in Europe, European Commission official Bitten Clausen observed that UWB doesn't fit into the classical regulatory paradigm, which is frequency-oriented. But she quickly added, "The [European] Community policy is to be permissive; [we] don't block or delay technologies because they don't fit in a paradigm."

XtremeSpectrum's Fisher said that the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute are driving UWB initiatives in Europe. The process will include the ITU's submitting UWB proposals to regulatory agencies in individual European countries. "It is still very early for Western Europe; the issues surrounding UWB are just beginning to be examined," he said.

ST's Fargere, however, remained relatively optimistic, predicting that regulatory bodies in Europe will "more or less" follow the FCC rules.

ST is developing "a whole UWB system, ranging from an antenna to high-level protocols including localization features," said Rouzet. The company's road map calls for ST to complete key measurements of its UWB technology for internal use this year and then to demonstrate and offer a full prototype system to potential customers in 2003.

Fargere said ST holds "key patents in the method of coding and decoding the pulse" when UWB is operated at higher bandwidths. The company has also developed a process technology designed for RF and baseband integration "that should prove to be extremely effective when applied to UWB," Fargere said. "We believe we have an important card to play in the UWB market, and we think we can bring down UWB cost even further."

Meanwhile, XtremeSpectrum's Fisher said that his company plans to launch commercial UWB chips next month that will comply with the FCC's "First Report and Order" on UWB deployment. He said that XtremeSpectrum has "queued up" three unnamed major consumer electronics companies in Japan, with the third company about to sign a letter of intent.

"They are all eager to get our chips so that they can do their own independent evaluations on how really robust the UWB technology is," Fisher said.

? Junko Yoshida

EE Times

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