US lawmakers blast FCC on ultrawideband policy

By Cara Garretson, IDG News Service |  Government

WASHINGTON - Congressmen criticized the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for potentially stifling a new technology by taking too conservative an approach to how they regulate commercial use of ultrawideband communications.

At a U.S. House of Representatives hearing held here Wednesday, members of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet questioned an FCC official on how the commission arrived at its spectrum policy for ultrawideband devices. Lawmakers also queried other federal agencies about their concerns that commercial ultrawideband devices will interfere with communications in spectrum that is set aside for government use.

Ultrawideband devices send and receive short-range, high-speed transmissions and can be used to provide connectivity in home and office wireless LANs, as well as offer short-distance connections among mobile devices such as cell phones, pagers, and handheld computers. Ultrawideband can also be used as a detection technology that penetrates walls and floors, in vehicular radar systems, and in surveillance products. It uses short-duration pulses that dart around other traffic traversing the same airwaves, and as a result can operate across spectrum already occupied by other radio services.

In April the FCC authorized limited commercial use of wireless devices based on ultrawideband; until that point only the federal government was allowed to use the technology.

But that authorization came with a list of strict standards for commercial use and device compliance. Critics claim ultrawideband's short yet plentiful pulses can cause interference with other systems, particularly radio and Global Positioning System (GPS) devices. Both the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Transportation, which were represented at Wednesday's hearing, voiced concerns that if the technology proliferates, their use of communications systems in critical situations such as military operations and air-traffic control would be compromised due to that interference.

The FCC said it plans to do extensive testing throughout the year to determine if commercial ultrawideband devices do in fact interfere with other communications systems, and will adjust its restrictions accordingly.

It was the FCC restrictions on ultrawideband with which legislators at the hearing took issue, stating that such limitations are unnecessary since it has not yet been proven that commercial devices will cause interference.

"I don't want our military operations to be interfered with, and I don't want planes to fall out of the sky," said Louisiana Democrat Billy Tauzin, chairman of the Energy and Commerce committee that the subcommittee holding the hearing is part of. "But I want real-world evidence that tells us whether ultrawideband devices, on a stand-alone or cumulative basis, would cause these things to occur."

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