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FCC Approves First Commercial UWB Chipset

The promise of ultra wide band (UWB) products under the Christmas tree could actually become a reality this year with the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) approval of Freescale Semiconductor's XS110 chipset for commercial multimedia use.

UWB-enabled devices hold the promise of wireless, short-range, high-speed data transmissions fully capable of supporting broadcast-quality video. Analysts envision television sets that wirelessly send different programs to other television sets in the house; flat screen computer monitors that can be wirelessly tethered to a CPU located anywhere in the home; and wireless connections between VCRs, camcorders and televisions.

ABI Research has predicted worldwide shipments of UWB-enabled devices by 2009 could be as high as 315 million units.

Two years ago, promoters of the technology promised a wireless revolution with the advent of UWB, but standards battles have delayed any widespread adoption.

"This will be the first public UWB chip offering to be put into consumer and electronic products," said John Adams, Freescale's directory of radio technology. "I think you're going to see a limited number of products by Christmas."

The FCC decision allows Freescale , the Motorola semiconductor spinoff, to begin shipping the chipsets immediately for inclusion in wireless consumer electronics products such as large screen displays, digital video recorders, and set-top boxes.

"By working closely with the FCC over the past two years, we felt confident that our direct sequence UWB (DS-UWB) approach would comply and enable coexistence with other wireless technologies," Martin Rofheart, director of UWB operations for Freescale, said in a statement. "With the FCC's action, we're now focused on delivering UWB products to our consumer electronics customers, so their products will be able to reach the U.S. market as early as the holiday season."

The DS-UWB approach is one of two remaining competing UWB standards, along with orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM). A chipset operating on DS-UWB can achieve more than 110 megabits per second (Mbps) data rates and consumes minimal power.

The FCC first approved rules for the commercial use of UWB in February of 2002. By April of that year, the FCC gave formal approval for the unlicensed use of the technology between 3.1 GHz and 10.6 GHz.

Prior to last week's FCC certification, Freescale was operating under special license while sampling products to customers and undergoing FCC and third-party interference testing. Following testing by the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology Laboratory, Freescale's XS110 solution met the Part 15 emission limits.

Freescale said it also adhered to FCC rules for a spectral mask requiring UWB to operate at extremely low power levels to protect existing spectrum users, including cell phones, GPS systems and satellites.

During the testing period, Adams said Freescale worked closely with consumer product developers.

"We've been working with companies for the last 18 months or so," Adams said. "They are already tightly in the loop for developing products using our platform."

Unlike conventional wireless radio systems that operate within a relatively narrow bandwidth (i.e. Bluetooth, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11a), UWB operates across a wide range of frequency spectrum by transmitting a series of very narrow and low-power pulses. The UWB industry says this combination of broader spectrum, lower power and pulsed data means that UWB causes less interference than conventional narrowband radio solutions.