European markets must be open to UWB (ultra-wideband) wireless networking devices within six months, the European Commission said Wednesday. But fewer frequencies will be available for UWB use in Europe than in the US, meaning that vendors will have to tailor their UWB products to the European market.

The Commission gave the 27 member states of the European Union until August to bring their national laws and regulations on the use of radio spectrum into line, to allow the use of UWB - a high speed technology that could replace wired USB - throughout the EU's market of almost 500 million consumers.

UWB wireless systems spread their high-speed data signal over a wide spectrum of frequencies, but transmit at very low power so as to reduce interference to other signals. The technology could be used to copy large picture files from cameras and phones to printers, or transmitting video between media players and big screens.

Equipment manufacturers have adopted the flavour of UWB championed by the WiMedia Alliance as the radio interface for the next generation of Bluetooth personal area networking devices, and for Wireless USB, a cordless replacement for USB. Just like its wired cousin, Wireless USB will transfer data at speeds up to 480 Mbit/s over a distance of 3m, although that rate will drop off to 110 Mbit/s or less at a distance of 10m.

The Commission's announcement follows a decision by the European Radio Spectrum Committee in December that UWB is fit for use in Europe.

The ruling comes "at just about the time that the technology is ready to come to market. The timing couldn't be a lot better," said Stephen Wood, president of the WiMedia Alliance.

US authorities have already given permission for UWB devices to transmit at a flat power level in a continuous frequency band from 3.1GHz to 10.6GHz. That includes a band between 5GHz and 6GHz already used by 802.11a Wi-Fi networks.

In Europe, the approach is slightly different, said Wood: "It's pretty much the same power level, but a more restrictive frequency range."

That means devices operating across the full spectrum allowed in the US won't be approved for use in Europe.

If the Commission had delayed setting regulations any longer, said Wood, "there would have been a strong incentive for consumers to import stuff illegally."

By acting now, the Commission has given manufacturers a chance to build devices approved for use on both sides of the Atlantic, by using the frequencies common to both jurisdictions.

"It won't affect the data rate, but it might affect the maximum number of channels," Wood said.

That means that in a crowded office, with lots of devices using UWB, the available spectrum might become saturated sooner, he said.

The WiMedia Alliance will demonstrate products using UWB technology in Brussels on Thursday. At next month's Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany, Wood expects to see a broad collection of devices, including "cameras downloading files rapidly, hard drives, printers and a number of video demos," he said.