Sponsored by: This story appeared on Network World Fusion at http://www.nwfusion.com/columnists/2002/0930bradner.html 'Net Insider: What are they so worried about? Network World, 09/30/02 Earlier this year the Federal Communications Commission gave very limited approval to the initial commercial development of ultrawideband wireless technology. This was over vehement objections on a number of fronts. The objections have not gone away either. Just a few weeks ago a scare story popped up in the news from England where, the claim was, authorities were thinking of banning all laptop computers from airplane carry-on luggage because they couldn't tell if a particular laptop might have an ultrawideband card in it. The doom stories are well developed: planes falling from the sky, cars running into each other, cell phone service devastated and more. One would think that the UWB proponents were building tools for terrorists. Just why is a chirping radio such a threat, and to what? UWB is hardly a new thing. It was developed more than 30 years ago, but has quite suddenly become all the rage well beyond the military research labs where it has quietly been worked on. A Google search on UWB generated 5,270 hits, including one for quite a good story in the September issue of Technology Review magazine. UWB works by sending out extremely short, broad spectrum chirps of radio waves. Originally designed to penetrate physical objects such as trees, the concept turns out to be quite flexible and can be used for a range of applications, from radars that can "see" through buildings to short-range, high-speed data network connections. According to its critics, the very problem with UWB is that it uses broad spectrum chirps. The frequencies in these pulses overlap the frequencies used for other applications such as the global positioning satellite system that supplies input data to weather prediction systems and some cell phone systems. Because UWB uses overlapping frequencies, there will be some interference with existing systems, but there is disagreement over how significant that will be. UWB proponents say that the interference will be minimal at worst, while opponents say it will be significant at best. The FCC has decided to try things out, much to the annoyance of opponents who have even managed to get the scientific geniuses in Congress to hold a hearing on the topic. (In case it's not clear, the above is sarcasm.) I have two problems with the arguments of UWB opponents: First, they are far too strident; it has been my observation that whenever there is a scientific disagreement, the side that brings out the scariest scenarios is the side with the fewest facts on its side; and second, far too many of them have an economic reason to thwart the development of UWB. By definition, UWB will cause some level of interference. But if the interference from the very low power transmitters that use UWB technology will significantly disrupt major infrastructure systems then we have a far more significant issue with the fragility of these systems to deliberate attack. Disclaimer: One of Harvard's jobs is to develop graduates that will produce some level of interference with the status quo, but I know of no university policy on UWB. Related Links All contents copyright 1995-2002 Network World, Inc. http://www.nwfusion.com