5.10. Future Mass Market
Wireless Sensor Networks
Wireless sensor networking is another prime target area for UWB, due to its covert communications, relative immunity to intentional jamming, accurate positioning capabilities, high data capacity, and low power consumption. Ad hoc wireless sensor networks have been gaining attention lately as a low-cost solution for home, building, and industrial automation, as well as for military applications. The recently completed 802.15.4 specification will triple the market: more than 500 million ZigBee chip sets are likely to be shipped in 2007, at least half of which will be used in wireless sensor applications .
Ad hoc wireless sensor networks are composed of small, battery-powered sensors that possess the ability to communicate detection data to command points for a variety of sensor types, including nuclear, biological, seismic, and motion. UWB enables transceivers and antennas to be very small, low power, and low cost because the electronics can be integrated in CMOS without any reactive components, making them ideally suited to widespread ad hoc wireless sensor networking. Therefore, wireless sensor networking could be the likely mass market for UWB; however, it will take at least five to ten years for this to gain traction, due to the lack of an overwhelmingly compelling reason to develop low-data-rate standards based on UWB.
The recently completed IEEE 802.15.4 specification, with its upper layers currently being developed under the ZigBee Alliance, has much momentum without UWBfor now. Even so, at least 14 companies, including Samsung Electronics, Texas Instruments, STMicroelectronics, Aether Wire & Location, Staccato Communications, and Time Domain Corporation, are pushing to have UWB considered as an alternative PHY for the IEEE 802.15.4 (low-power wireless PAN or "ZigBee") standard. In the meantime, developers should focus on niche areas that are either not too price sensitive or do not require stringent interoperability, such as expensive equipment tracking or chemical/biological wireless sensor networks.
ON World predicts that by 2010, UWB-enabled devices, such as cell phones and handhelds, will allow users to wirelessly download large files and exchange data much the way they do with laptops today. UWB is likely to appear in smart phones in the near future, when silicon has been shipped in volume for several years, prices reach under $5 per unit, and regulations are relaxed enough to permit this. According to a recent report from the ARC Group, high-end smart phones will grow from less than 1 percent of the total mobile handsets shipped in 2002 to 5 percent, or 45 million units, in 2007 . Other analysts, such as ABI Research, have predicted that smart phones will make up 85 percent of all handsets shipped in 2008. Because this represents such a large potential market, even if UWB appears in less than 10 percent of all smart phones in 2010, it will be a 40-million-unit market at this time and increase very rapidly from this time on. Applications include the transmission of very large data files as well as networked multimedia.
While UWB could be integrated in a smart phone for heavy data transmission applications, it could also potentially be used to replace existing cellular systems. UWB transceivers are cheap, require far fewer parts than conventional cellular systems, and consume around one ten-thousandth of the power of cell phones. In addition, UWB has the potential to drive down the cost of cell phones.
Handset vendors are viewing UWB with interest but also with caution at this time, because they consider UWB to be a complement rather than a threat to current technologies.
The Last Mile
The very nature of UWB makes it feasible to use it in place of cellular networks in a mesh network architecture that could potentially make the existing base stations irrelevant. The likelihood of this happening within the next ten years is slim; however, it is important to realize the power of this technology and the potential it has for the future. UWB's benefit for last mile applications is that it delivers bandwidth and reliability comparable with licensed broadband wireless systemsbut without the considerable cost of licenses. UWB systems can have high performance in multipath environments that plague spread-spectrum systems. It is also relatively easy to engineer non-line-of-sight, user-installable systems using UWB. Furthermore, because it uses very low-powered radios and simple designs, the cost per user for customer premises equipment promises to be much lower than spread-spectrum systems that provide comparable reliability and speeds.