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Ofcom has asked the public to comment upon a plan to open up ultrawideband (UWB) spectrum to enable the rapid adoption of the close-range connectivity technology.

The UK communications regulator's scheme is outlined in a consultation document, published yesterday. With UWB-based kit already in the works with a view to launching product to US end-users late this year, Ofcom is concerned that the UK may fall behind.

Today, anyone operating communication services within spectrum used by UWB must have a licence to do so. Licensed systems include specialised interior probing systems of the kind used by fire-fighters and aircraft engineers. While it's practical for users of these kinds of applications to acquire spectrum licences, that's not going to be the case for consumers keen to use UWB-based wireless alternatives to USB or Firewire.

Such roles require an open spectrum if they are to flourish - just as Wi-Fi wireless networking technology has. Ofcom's remit requires it to consult interested parties before applying such a regime, hence the document published yesterday. Ofcom has given commentators until 24 March to comment on the plan to open the UWB spectrum - or to suggest alternative courses of action. Ofcom has to ensure that UWB devices, if permitted, will not interfere with other wireless systems.

The move will be welcome to UWB proponents who fear it could end up open only to US users. Intel, for one, is actively lobbying communications regulators around the world to open up spectrum to UWB; also lobbying hard UWB-focused organisations, such as the WiMedia Alliance, the Multiband OFDM Alliance, the 1394 Trade Association and the Wireless USB Promoter Group. Speaking last week at the CES event in Las Vegas, members of all these organisations expressed concern that it could take several years before UWB spectrum is opened outside the US.

Alongside the Ofcom review, the European Commission is seeking to harmonise European Union member states' policies on UWB, so an early lead from the UK to back the technology could help speed its adoption across the continent. In April, the EC is expected to publish its findings on UWB, based on feedback from member states. The results of the Ofcom consultation will inform its own response to the broader EC investigation.

The Ofcom consultation document, along with a Mason/DotEcon study detailing how UWB might be implemented in the UK to minimise interference with other wireless systems, can be found at the Ofcom website, here. ®

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