By the end of next year, mobile devices could be communicating at 480M bit/s using ultra-wideband (UWB), a radical radio technology which delivers much faster speeds on lower power than current wireless technologies like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

The IEEE has now combined a set of competing proposals into one candidate that, if all the niggles can be ironed out, will start the journey to becoming a formal standard this September.

UWB will be a short-range technology, replacing cables between devices close to each other, and handling even full-motion video. Instead of using one frequency, it sends tiny “chirps” across a broad spectrum, getting information across more quickly and without interfering with other signals

The IEEE standards body aims to produce a standard which will allow 110M bit/s over ten metres and 480M bit/s over one metre, using low power and forming ‘piconets’ between small groups of equipment. It is being developed in the 802.15.3a working group on wireless personal area networks. The group, which started the year with 31 proposals, has whittled them down to one front runner, the Multiband-OFDM Alliance (MBOA), backed by Intel and Texas Instruments, but it still needs significant work before it can make the first steps towards being a standard, according to the chair of the working group, Bob Heile.

“The MBOA proposal has some fairly significant hurdles to overcome not the least of which is whether it complies with current FCC rules,” said Heile, who is also chief technology officer of wireless specialist Appairent Technologies, a company that spun out of Eastman Kodak in 2002, which makes silicon for high speed radios. Because UWB uses such a broad spectrum for its ‘chirps’, the FCC (the US regulator) has specified that it must comply with specifications for non-radio equipment and only emit as much radio signal as leaks out of devices such as hi-fis.

If the MBOA is shown to be unable to meet this condition, the group will have to think again, but that is not the only problem. “If it does [comply with FCC rules] then it may still be difficult, unless there is some kind of merger of interests,” said Heile.

The MBOA did not get the 75 percent majority it needed at last week’s IEEE meeting, to allow it to be confirmed as the favoured technology. The vote will be taken again at the next meeting in Mid-September. If its proponents cannot convince those who voted against it last week at that meeting, other technologies may come back into the frame.

“At this point, it would be hard to bet on the outcome,” said Heile. “I continue to be optimistic we can get a resolution in September.”

Other technologies in the running include one by Xtremespectrum which is backed by Motorola.