LONDON The European Commission's decision to give member states till August to bring their regulations on licensing the use of Ultra Wideband networking in line and by implication the adoption of Wireless USB is a welcome step. But it is not the end of the long road the continent has been taking on the use of UWB.
The Commission's report earlier this week part of a much wider policy document on the reform of spectrum in the EU whose approach seems to be a more flexible use of the scare resource than its previous stance lays down a framework and a basic pattern of adoption for UWB.
Rightly, it starts off by accepting that the technology will play a huge role in cable replacement, following the decision last year by the WiMedia Alliance to adopt UWB.
And while it has been obvious for some time that Europe will make fewer frequencies available for deploying UWB than is the case in other countries, notably the U.S., chip and equipment suppliers, and most regulators, now consider that this is no longer a major technical hurdle.
Significantly, both the EC's announcement on Wednesday (Feb. 21) and the accompanying and very detailed EC document explaining its decision, focus more on the commercial opportunities from a harmonized market and the economies of scale that will drive down costs, than the technology considerations and potential interference issues that have dogged the UWB scene for years.
Clearly, it is concern about grey imports into Europe that is driving the Commission's thinking on adopting a standard. And of course the pressure that is likely to come from consumers once they see what others in the U.S, Japan, Korea and even China can achieve with Wirelesss USB.
The document notes: "The technical conditions in this Decision, which must be applied within the next six months throughout the EU's 27 Member States, were developed following extensive compatibility studies between UWB and all other spectrum users that could potentially have been affected. The studies were done by the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) for the Commission."
And EU Telecoms and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding adds: "To benefit our citizens, it is important that we establish a functioning single market for these devices in the European Union. By adopting a harmonizing decision, the Commission allows innovators to use this new technology throughout the EU, while ensuring no interference takes place with other wireless users."
She adds UWB devices can transmit data at very high rates by "spreading" the signal over very broad ranges of the radio spectrum. "With rates comparable to devices connected by cable, UWB is an attractive technology for the increasingly bandwidth-hungry consumer electronics industry."
The EC document lays down that UWB equipment should be used predominantly indoors and thus avoid interference, and adds some other restrictions on device capabilities. For instance, it rules that equipment must cease transmission within 10 seconds unless it receives acknowledgement from an associated transceiver that its transmission is being received. It stresses that video signals must be transmitted using "high-efficiency coding."
It asserts that "outdoor use of equipment using UWB technology … should not include use at a fixed outdoor location or connected to a fixed outdoor antenna or in vehicles. The potential interference caused by such uses requires further study."
Such caveats suggest that interference issues, which manifest themselves in different ways and in different frequency bands in member states, are still a concern.
The document stresses that mitigation techniques, including detect-and-avoid between the 3.1 to 4.2 GHz ranges, already highlighted in studies by ETSI and the CEPT, will have to be included in the harmonized standards.
For now, the EC suggests that the use of UWB equipment without mitigation in the 4.2 to 4.8 GHz band can go ahead but limited till the end of 2010. It accepts that, globally, UWB-based gear will operate above 6GHz to give it more range and flexibility, and that Europe will need to come in line with that from the year 2011.