The High Spark of Low Power - Page 2

By Roy Mark

August 02, 2002

Powering Up Low Power
The FCC has been attempting since 1998 to a find a way to approve and promote UWB technology because of the potential commercial applications. However, the agency had to fight the concerns of military, aviation, fire, police and rescue officials that interference from UWB devices could potentially disrupt critical public services and crucial military operations.

UWB also presented a novel regulatory issue to the FCC because time pulse technology does not displace existing frequency users but, instead, overlays wide swaths of existing spectrum.

In its February ruling, the FCC decreed that UWB devices must operate in the frequency band 3.1-10.6 GHz. It also said the equipment must be designed to ensure that operation can only occur indoors or it must consist of hand-held devices that may be employed for such activities as peer-to-peer operation.

"The standards adopted today represent a cautious first step with UWB technology. These standards are based in large measure on standards that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) believes are necessary to protect against interference to vital federal government operations," read an FCC statement issued in February. "Since there is no production UWB equipment available and there is little operational experience with the impact of UWB on other radio services, the Commission chose in this First Report and Order to err on the side of conservatism in setting emission limits when there were unresolved interference issues."

The FCC said it intends within the next 6-12 months to review the standards for UWB devices and issue a further notice of proposed rule making to explore more flexible standards and address the operation of additional types of UWB operations and technology.

That "cautious" first step by the FCC brought a finger-pointing, table-thumping lecture from Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), a strong supporter of UWB technology, at a June House hearing convened to deal with the potential ultra wideband interference issues raised by the NTIA.

Tauzin cited a 1989 ruling by the FCC that opened the door for widespread use of cell phones and other wireless devices including PDAs and laptops. At the time, the NTIA, the military and other agencies contended the use of these devices could interfere with applications already running in the spectrum, fears that the FCC ignored and were ultimately proved to be unfounded.

"In 1989, the FCC told the NTIA to prove it and not deal in imagined problems," Tauzin said. "Sound spectrum management involves a balancing of governmental and non-governmental interests. While balancing these interests always involves policy issues, good spectrum management requires that sound policy be supported by sound engineering. I don't think that necessarily happened this time."

Tauzin then specifically asked Julius P. Knapp, deputy chief, Office of Engineering and Technology at the FCC, and Michael Gallagher, deputy assistant secretary of the NTIA if "there is any evidence of interference" from UWB devices. Both replied no, but contended there are not currently enough UWB devices operating to empirically prove the point.

"It's really no more than background noise -- it's under the radar and it is inherently more secure," said Precursor analyst Hoover.

Another analyst said UWB technology allows an "unprecedented amount of high-density bandwidth applications" without requiring assignment of a new frequency bandwidth, essentially "creating" a new band of spectrum in the noise floor.

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