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WiMedia's UWB Gets FCC Waiver

Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave approval to the WiMedia Alliance—which recently merged with the MultiBand OFDM Alliance Special Interest Group (MBOA-SIG)—to sell ultrawideband wireless products in the United States.

MBOA-SIG's approach to ultrawideband (UWB) was accused of contravening FCC rules on power levels (.DOC file) for wireless products.

In a statement today, the FCC said, "The waiver provides greater flexibility and innovation in designing UWB devices." The commission feels that UWB operating under normal parameters will "not result in increased harmful interference to licensed radio operations."

This applies only to indoor or handheld UWB devices at this time. It excludes UWB using the 5030-5650 MHz radio frequency band, which is reserved for for aircraft landing systems and weather radar. The Institute for Telecommunication Sciences will be doing an investigation on whether that should also be waived.

Objections were brought to the FCC by Freescale Semiconductor, an offshoot of Motorola and a member of the competing UWB Forum. That group backs another flavor of UWB called Direct Sequence-UWB (DS-UWB).

The waiver may not just favor WiMedia. In a statement today, Freescale said it approved of the FCC decision, calling it technology-neutral, and saying it would allow for changes in DS-UWB that would "result in a 4x advantage for DS-UWB over MB-OFDM technology... DS-UWB can now enjoy 4x greater data rate across a network, or deliver a stream using 4x lower power from the battery, or deliver the same data rate across the network but at double the distance and with greater robustness."

Freescale says that, based on the decision, its XS110 chip will be "re-certifed" to take advantage of the waiver and achieve twice the range it had before. Current XS110 customers will get the upgrade via firmware.

Next week when the IEEE holds meetings, the 802.15.3a task group will meet to again vote on what approach (UWB Forum's or WiMedia's) could become the actual 802.15.3a standard. The groups have been deadlocked in the past, but WiMedia is undoubtedly hoping that the FCC ruling will swing things in its favor; MBOA and WiMedia's merger as of last week may also help. Likewise, Freescale's announcement lauding the waiver could also be seen as an attempt to jockey for top position. A 75 percent majority is needed for there to be a clear winner under IEEE rules.

WiMedia is backed by Intel, TI, HP, Marvell, Sony, Samsung, and many others. The president of the WiMedia board is Stephen Wood, a technology strategist with Intel.

It's expected that the FCC decision will impact similar issues facing UWB in Europe.

UWB is an incredibly high-speed but relatively low-range wireless technology that is expected to be used in everything from transmission of video to acting as replacement to the cables used for USB and FireWire connections.