Ultrawide Band Could Interfere With GPS

By Bob Brewin, Computerworld |  Networking

A new report has bolstered the safety concerns raised by the airline, cell phone and television broadcasting industries about the use of ultrawide band (UWB) wireless technology, a technology that was hailed a year ago by the Federal Communications Commission for its ability to provide broadband services by piggybacking on bands of spectrum occupied by wireless services.

UWB devices spread signals across a broad swath of spectrum, raising the possibility of interference with other systems. On March 9, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) issued a report that airline and U.S. Department of Transportation officials said raises serious concerns about potential interference with the Global Positioning System (GPS) that the Federal Aviation Administration plans to use for all stages of controlled flight.

UWB devices are short-range transmitters used for applications such as wireless LANs. UWB has the potential to provide short-range, high-speed wireless data transmissions that could make untethered access to Web pages as fast as a wired connection.

Critical Systems at Risk

James Miller, a senior staff specialist for flight operations technology at Chicago-based United Air Lines Inc., said the NTIA report should serve as a strong warning against any plans to license UWB devices for use on the GPS 1.2- and 1.5-GHz bands, which are used for air traffic control. The report and the tests "show that there is interference with critical safety-of-life systems," Miller said. "It's not in the best interest of aviation to experiment with UWB in the GPS bands."

Jeff Ross, vice president for corporate development strategies at Huntsville, Ala.-based Time Domain Corp., which has championed UWB technology, said the company is still evaluating the report.

Robert Fontana, president of Multispectral Solutions Inc. in Germantown, Md., which also manufactures UWB systems but has decided to focus on frequencies well above the GPS band, described the NTIA report as "devastating for the use of UWB in the GPS bands. This is the kiss of death for any company that wants to operate in those bands."

The National Association of Broadcasters in Washington also opposes widespread use of UWB, saying the devices could cause interference with spectrum bands used by remote news crews as well as the C-band satellite dishes used for the distribution of programming and commercials. Ross dismissed those concerns, however. "When anyone advocates a new technology, people [with existing spectrum rights] are against it," he said. "It's the position you take if you are a spectrum manager."

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