UWB, the future wireless standard that could see half-a-Gigabit wireless links replacing USB and Bluetooth, could at last break out of its standards purgatory.

A new proposal by PulseLink suggests any number of UWB standards could operate, if devices use an agreed low-speed signalling mode to negotiate. To sidestep the standards snarl-up at the IEEE, the idea will be put to the world's telecoms body, the ITU, in June.

Ultra-wide band radio sends data in pulses across a wide frequency band (more details here). Legal in the US - as long as it uses less power than normal RF leakage - it still has problems finding a wider market. The chip-makers are still only at sample stage of silicon, but the bigger problem is that there is no standard. The popular MBOA Alliance, proposed by Intel and friends, is always blocked at the IEEE standards body by a smaller group backed by Motorola, based around direct sequencing. Motorola has so far managed to muster a big enough minority, leaving the IEEE standards process stuck.

"A common signalling mode could iron out regulatory differences as well as standards," said Bruce Watkins, chief operating officer of PulseLink, at the Wireless LAN event in London this week. All vendors have to do is agree on a simple low-speed communications link, and then devices can use this to make contact and negotiate to speak in any higher-speed UWB standard they both understand.

The world's senior telecoms standard body, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), has a meeting June 9 to June 18, to look at UWB proposals. Unfortunately, it has so far been reported to be hostile to any form of UWB.

Despite this, Watkins is optimistic, suggesting that the common signalling mode could be used to negotiate UWB signalling that met any regional regulatory requirements. "A common signalling mode might be a regulatory requirement so that different countries could enforce their own UWB standards," he said.

"From a cost standpoint, the implication is about ten cents," he said. "There is no financial or technological reason not to do this," he said, and plenty of good reasons to go ahead. The scheme would not only allow different vendors to run different standards, but a single vendor could to bring out new versions without compatibility problems. It could even allow multiple UWB standards to operate at the same time. "It would intelligently allocate time slots to different UWB devices," said Watkins.

Watkins repeated his company's promise to deliver a "software-defined radio" sometime this summer, which can adapt to whatever UWB technology is required of it, if necessary with a small download of software. This device could reach 920 Mbit/s over five metres, he promised.

Software-defined cognitive radio is the way to go, he said, pointing to interest at US regulator, the FCC on the subject. There have also been papers from Intel and others promoting the idea.