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THE SINGAPORE MAGAZINE OF RESEARCH,
TECHNOLOGY AND EDUCATION
About Innovation
COVER STORY:
Singapore to Test Ultra-Wideband Technology
A two-year programme has set the stage for a proactive approach to promoting the deployment of ultra-wideband.
by Geok-Leng TAN

ltra-wideband (UWB) technology has been around for decades. It has been deployed mainly in covert military operations, but is currently undergoing commercialisation for the mass market. Singapore, with an eye on this potential market, has started to position itself as a seedbed for groundbreaking research and commercial application of UWB technology that could revolutionise infocommunications.

UWB technology promises to boost wireless networking data rates dramatically, particularly for short-range highspeed data transmission suitable for broadband access to networks. Lower cost and power consumption also serve as attractions for companies to develop UWB devices. The broad range of possible applications adds to the attractiveness of the technology (see Table).

Some potential applications of ultra-wideband technology.

Applications
Communications
  • Computer connection and electronic devices

Distance determination

  • Radar (ground penetrating radar, precision radar)
  • On-board collision detectors in vehicles
  • Object tracking and asset tagging
  • Precision Location Sensing and identification
  • Medical imaging devices
  • Rescue operations
  • Intrusion detection
  • Tagging
Sensing and identification
  • Medical imaging devices
  • Rescue operations
  • Intrusion detection
  • Tagging

One challenge is that UWB goes against the grain of how radio communication has been regulated thus far. Instead of partitioning users into fixed frequency silos and squeezing all the transmitted signal power within that preallocated slot, UWB spreads the same transmitted signal power as widely as possible across the frequency spectrum, thus reducing the average power spectral density across any particular frequency silo. If the spread is wide enough, the power density drops below the ambient noise floor and thus "disappears into the background noise."

UWB achieves this spectral spreading by using picosecond (10-12 ) pulses to carry data information to be transmitted. The technology capitalises on the Fourier time-frequency transformation principle, where a function wide in one dimension is consequently narrow in the other and vice versa. A narrower pulse in time leads to a broader spread in the frequency domain, hence the term "ultra-wideband."

Because of its low power emissions, UWB is very difficult to detect and regulate. Nevertheless, regulators mindful of the great benefits of this technology are interested despite its various limitations because UWB holds promise of more efficient use of scarce resources - radio-frequency spectrums - by operating in stealth mode below the noise range of existing systems.

Looking at the exciting possibilities of UWB, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore is preparing to use this technology to the country's competitive advantage. United States regulators gave the technology a big boost when the authorities allowed limited commercial use of UWB in early 2002.

In Singapore, the Technology Group of IDA identified UWB as a strategic technology and highlighted it as one of IDA's technology bets at the Technology Roadmap Symposium 3 (ITR-3) in 2001. Since then, a multidivisional team comprising development specialists in technology, policy, and industry from across the IDA has been set up to construct a focused UWB programme.

In February 2003, Singapore launched a two-year UWB programme that sets the stage for a proactive approach to promoting research and development of such devices. IDA will be able to tap the experience and knowledge gained to develop a framework to facilitate marketplace deployment.

Key elements of the programme are: the release of rules and regulations on trials of UWB technology within a designated zone; IDA-led trials to establish the limits of coexistence between UWB emitters and other wireless communication devices and services; and the formation of a UWB community.

Singapore offers some advantages for UWB players looking for an Asian test venue for this emerging technology. The UWB Friendly Zone is located within Science Park II, the heart of Singapore's R&D community.

Well positioned as an access point to Asia, a market of 2.8 billion people, Singapore also serves as the regional base for some 6,000 multinational companies. It has historically shown itself to be open to emerging technology, especially in the areas of telecommunications and information technology, such as the successful first-of-its-kind electronic-road-pricing system, and the SingaporeOne broadband network.

For more information contact Geok-Leng Tan at tan_geok_leng@ida.gov.sg

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INNOVATION magazine is a joint publication of Nanyang Technological University, National University of Singapore and World Scientific Publishing Co Pte Ltd