The Wide World of UWB

While much of the current press coverage of ultrawideband (UWB) focuses on
its ability to connect devices in personal area networks, a new report by ABI Research tries to show that there’s
a lot more to the technology.

The report, "Ultra
Wideband: Standards, Technology, OEM Strategy and Markets and Application Spaces
,"
provides a broad view of UWB’s progress and its applications. Alan Varghese,
ABI’s Senior Director of Semiconductor Research, says it’s important to keep
in mind what makes UWB unique.

"Inherently, the signal has some good characteristics," Varghese
says. "It’s extremely wide-bandwidth, which allows you to do things like
position location, and it’s very resistant to multipath fading."

One of the key UWB applications that ABI’s report discusses is location-finding,
for inventory control or asset tracking. For tasks like these, the technology
promises high precision. "With an extremely wide bandwidth signal, you
can resolve to smaller and smaller magnitudes," Varghese says. "The
claim is that you can resolve down to a centimeter, even from hundreds of meters
away."

The same technology, Varghese says, could also be applied in smart homes to
control appliances, or on highways to improve safety. "These localizer
units can be placed all along a highway so that automobiles can use them as
guideposts to specify location, to do some kind of automatic steering or collision
avoidance," he says.

UWB’s low power consumption points to another key application–battlefield
sensor networks, which are also aided by the fact that UWB is difficult to jam.
"The military talks about having intelligent battlefields where you might
distribute some of these sensors," Varghese says. "Then you can collect
information using just a AAA battery, and it will last for a year. So the low
power is extremely important."

For imaging, UWB offers strong penetrating properties, which can be used both
for medical applications and for public safety. "If police or fire departments
want to know who’s inside a particular building, they can attach a unit to
the outside and it will show a person inside the room," Varghese says.
"You can’t resolve it to the facial features, but you can say that there’s
someone in there."

Companies focusing on products like these include Time
Domain
, Aether Wire, and Multispectral Solutions, among others. Time
Domain, in particular, is focusing on through-wall imaging, with a product called
RadarVision targeted specifically
at law enforcement. "We have actual products in these spaces, especially
when you compare them to the communications arena," Varghese says.

The fact that these applications haven’t received much attention, Varghese
says, is largely a reflection of the size of the market.

"When you talk about personal area networks, you’re talking about cable
replacement," he says. "On your desk right now, you probably have
a PC, with wires going to your printer, to your scanner, to your speakers, to
your fax machine. It’s about replacing all of those cables."

Applications for home entertainment offers similar promise. "Again, there’s
a rat’s nest of cables at your entertainment center, your TV, your set top box,
and one day you’ll want a connection between your PC and your TV," Varghese
says. "So there’s a good problem to solve, because the market is huge–and
the attention is really according to the size of the market."

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