Guest Post by Kai Siwiak, TimeDerivative, Inc.
Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from: K. Siwiak and D. McKeown, UWB Radio Technology, (Wiley, 2004)
We pause to reflect on the rise and fall of ultra-wideband (UWB) technology, and especially on the recent reorganization of Time Domain Corporation, a UWB pioneer company that has fallen on tough times. UWB radio coincides with the birth and original rise of wireless technology. We’d have to start with spark gap Morse code transmissions (which actually used Vail’s dot-dash code) using Class B damped wave emission.
“The Communications Act of 1934 established the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) giving regulatory powers in both wire-line and radio based communications. Stations were to be licensed and separated by wavelength, or frequency, and stations were to use a “pure wave” and a “sharp wave” (sine wave carriers) in the words of the FCC. Sine wave communications and narrow band signals were now mandated. Unfiltered spark emissions, dubbed ‘class B damped sine wave emissions,’ were prohibited.”
Class B emissions were banned internationally by the ITU in 1938. Wireless became narrow band radio and grew with commercial broadcasting along the mantra of using the narrowest bandwidth that the modulation permitted. This gave way to wide band FM when Armstrong demonstrated that bandwidth could be traded for transmission quality. Later, Claude Shannon’s work demonstrated that the widest bandwidths can be harnessed to provide that greatest information transmission efficiency. Thus the narrow band mantra was breached again with resulting improvements to information transmission efficiencies.
“Through the years, a small cadre of scientists has worked to develop various techniques of sending and receiving short impulse signals between antennas. Impulses are short time signals – the shorter the impulse, the wider its bandwidth. The experiments led to “impulse radio,” later dubbed UWB radio. By the late 1960s and 70s, [see patent 3,728,632 to Ross , and the works of Helmut Harmuth] the virtues of wide band non-sinusoidal communications were being investigated for non-government uses. Prior to that, the primary focus was on impulse radar techniques and government sponsored projects. In the late 1970s and 80s the practicality of modern low power impulse radio techniques for communications and positioning/location was demonstrated using a time coded time-modulated approach by Fullerton in 1989, and later by others, [including Fleming in 1998] using UWB spread spectrum impulse techniques. Digital impulse radio, the modern echo of the Hertz and Marconi century-old spark transmissions, now re-emerges as ultra-wideband radio. On February 14, 2002 the FCC adopted the formal rule changes officially permitting ultra-wideband operations.”
Among other things, the FCC ruled that the prohibition against Class B (damped wave) emissions does not apply to UWB devices operating under the UWB subpart of Part 15. The ruling defines access to a 7,500 MHz wide swath of unlicensed spectrum between 3.1 and 10.6 GHz that is made available for commercial communications development in the United States. We’ve come full circle: wireless became radio, and is now wireless once again; wide band gave way to the mantra of narrow band, which is giving way to wide band again.
UWB technology arose as a potential IEEE 802.15.3 high speed personal area network standard in 2002, but never survived vested corporate interests, hubris, and organized efforts to kill the technology. UWB does survive as an ITU-R Recommendation on UWB, and as a physical layer in the IEEE 802.15.4 Standard, and in 1394 TA as a high speed cable technology Specification 200619, but commercial acceptance remains elusive. Despite a billion dollars invested by corporations and venture capitalists, one by one the entities organized to exploit UWB technologies have fallen by the wayside.
Among the most recent casualties is Time Domain Corporation, which fell when Pharos Capital foreclosed on the Company’s assets in recent days. Time Domain touted a variant of UWB based on pulse-position modulation signaling dubbed “time modulation” by its inventor Larry Fullerton. Time Domain’s greatest legacy may well be their successful effort to legalize UWB technology in the USA.
Ultra-wide band pulse technologies remain recognized for some special properties, and many research projects thrive. No longer the darlings of venture capitalists, a cadre of UWB scientists and engineers continue under government and private sponsorship in applications ranging from high data rate communication, precise, near line-of-sight positioning, and through-wall radar.
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10 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of UWB”
With respect, I disagree with your perspective on commercial adoption of UWB RTLS. At Ubisense we have seen significant production installations over the past year at large enterprises including Airbus, BMW, Caterpillar, Honda, Aston Martin, Posco, the US Army, and many more. We see the Industrial space being an especially strong market, and our strategic agreement with Atlas Copco, the world leader in industrial power tools and assembly systems, is moving UWB location tracking into the mainstream of Industrial Automation in automotive, aerospace and other manufacturing, energy and process markets. Ubisense is profitable and ranked 8th in the Sunday Times Microsoft Tech Track 100 in 2009, a ranking of the fastest growing technology companies in the UK. So we are seeing substantial growth in the market for UWB RTLS, and believe that will accelerate.
I’m delighted that Ubisense have met with great success in industrial UWB RTLS. Perhaps it portends success in the consumer space. Thank you for your comments.
I must agree with Peter here Kai – rumors of Time Domain’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Foreclosure is but one step in the process of restructuring Time Domain. This puts the company on a better financial footing in order to capitalize on growth in UWB RTLS opportunities. As Ubisense has gained good traction in manufacturing, so Time Domain has gained good traction in retail applications. Contrary to the doomsaying, UWB has very much come of age over the last couple of years and our customers are beyond proving and piloting, now rolling out UWB RTLS to support critical operations enterprise-wide.
Kai, Peter, and all who’ve helped carry the technology this far; thank you and don’t give up!
I’ve been involved in the effort to advance the adoption of UWB for the last ten years and have great respect for those that have come before me as well as my colleagues. I’m happy to have hosted two conferences for the ITU-R and am very pleased with the progress the industry has made as a whole. Real world products are now hitting Main St., and this is happening globally! It’s been a long and difficult slog but we’re getting there slowly on all fronts.
There’s a lot going on in the industry right now and with Uraxs Communications as well. Among other things we’re working on, we’re planning a UWB Global Adoption Conference which will be a major go-to industry event supported by the ITU and held in Geneva, Switzerland this fall. This will be an MIS event where Regulators and the UWB Industry can coordinate their efforts and find a common ground for an inevitable global adoption. Where the public is educated about and exposed to the numerous available products. Where major technology partners and business leaders will have a chance to evaluate different business models, investments and development projects. Where the technologies and all the possibilities are exposed and debated in an effort to plan the future of this extremely exciting technology. Many countries are now moving quickly to finalize their rules and regulations in preparation for the eminent onslaught of new UWB devices being released – more details will be forthcoming as they take shape.
Also, we’ll soon be launching a new website that will be a hub of all things UWB and will serve to educate the public and promote products. It will be a major point for collaboration, industry news, research and technical exchange amongst researchers and developers alike.
In the launching of Phase II of The Uraxs Uwb Project, which aims to revolutionize mobile communications through the use of UWB, we are eager to form partnerships and acquire the appropriate industry resources in order to advance the state and use of UWB technology in a meaningful way.
We have re-engaged with the FCC and ITU and will work on contributions and participate in ITU-R SG 1 activities and working groups as well as the RAG. We intend to be involved with the ITU-T in regards to NGN and the ITU-D as it relates to all areas of interest. We will maintain both a Delegate and Corporate involvement, depending where interests apply. We look forward to discussing our level of engagement with all interested parties and mapping out an effective strategy to achieve mutual goals.
Good to see all the uwb experts here. We are a Chinese GIS company and just recently ran into a sizable project which uses uwb rtls systems to track field personnels. We had run 2 successful tests with UBisense sensors. Customer seems very happy with the technology. However, we saw 2 problems: 1. price is too high for our clients to adopt, espectially for large quantities, budget maybe out of reach by the client; 2. communication with supplier is very poor and they seem have little interest in talking to us. Maybe because we are in Beijing? So any other replacement suggestions? Is Time Domain still a viable option or maybe Zebra.
Both Time Domain and Zebra offer UWB RTLS solutions. Last week, Zebra announced they will unveil a new UWB RTLS product in the fall. My company, Q-Track, offers RTLS based on a low frequency, long wavelength approach called Near-Field Electromagnetic Ranging. There are a wide variety of other RTLS systems using WiFi or 2.4GHz approaches (like AeroScout or Ekahau) as well as ultrasonic (like Sonitor). Hope this helps!
For your information, Donn Technology based in Changzhou is our VAR. They had supported your company on the two successful tests you mentioned above.
I am responsible for Ubisense activities in Asia Pacific. I visited in your office in May although I am not sure we met. I am in communication with Qin Min. Please feel free to contact me.
Heard Jennings left Time Domain to join Ubisense. What does that mean for Time Domain Foreclosure? Anyone hear if they are able to stay in business?
You are correct that I am no longer with Time Domain but for no other reason than a the Ubisense opportunity presented itself to me out of the blue and for personal reasons I decided to see where that might lead. Time Domain is still operating as before. It was a tough decision to make after 10 years of hard work and especially given Time Domain is now in a better position than I can remember in a long time, but life’s too short to pass up opportunities….