What is UWB?

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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2019
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UWB (Ultra Wideband) is a radio frequency platform that personal area networks can use to wirelessly communicate over short distances at high speeds. UWB is ideally suited for streaming multimedia in the wireless home or office environment.

Growing interoperability between devices like digital camcorders, PDAs, cell phones, portable MP3 and DVD players, HDTVs and computers makes wired technology less and less convenient or practical. Wireless technologies like Bluetooth® free home devices from wires, but slow data transmission. Ideally, a consumer should be able to wirelessly send data from one device to another at a rate equal to or better than a high-speed Internet connection. UWB, augmenting existing WiFi and WiMax technologies, can deliver the goods.

While other wireless technologies use radio sine waves that provide "continual" transmission at a specific frequency, UWB is unique. A UWB transmitter sends out pulses or bursts of RF (radio frequency) that last roughly 30 picoseconds (30 trillionths of a second) to a few nanoseconds (billionths of a second) each. These RF bursts radiate outward in a wide band, transmitting over many frequencies simultaneously. The pulses are emitted in a rhythm unique to each transmitter. The receiver must know the transmitter's rhythm signature or pulse sequence to "know how to listen" for the data being transmitted.


As a result of their ultra-low power, short bursts and proprietary pulse signatures, several UWB networks can overlap one another without RF interference or eavesdropping. UWB is so secure it is a favored technology of the military, which has been using UWB since it was first developed for covert use in 1960 during the Cold War.

Since UWB uses very little power, UWB networks are virtually undetectable and energy-efficient. UWB operates best over short distance of about 30 feet (10 meters). Current flavors can deliver data speeds of 480 megabits per second (Mbps) at distances from six to ten feet (2-3 meters). As distance increases, speed decreases, but at 30 feet transmissions still reach or exceed 100 Mbps -- the speed of a standard tier DSL connection. Future scaling of UWB is expected to push speeds to 2 Gbps (gigabits per second) or more.

Aside from networking, UWB can also be used for other industries, including radar and electronic positioning, or GPS-type technologies. With UWB's ultra-low power consumption, it would also be ideal for mobile phone use. High-gain antennas could reportedly extend the distance barrier to just over half a mile, or about one kilometer. A cell phone operating on UWB would reportedly last for weeks before requiring recharging, rather than days. Though UWB transmitters would have to be rather ubiquitous, they do not cause radio interference.

In the United States, UWB can legally operate in a frequency range between 3.1 GHz and 10.6 GHz at limited transmit powers. As of spring 2006 there are competing standards for UWB in the U.S. The two main camps are represented by the WiMedia Alliance and the UWB Forum. A single standard is important to consumers and manufacturers alike, however, experts aren't yet sure which standard will win out.


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