WASHINGTON — In a setback to computer and consumer product makers, federal regulators today are expected to tightly constrain a breakthrough wireless technology that backers had hoped would usher in a new era of wireless networking and tracking.
Proponents had boasted that the technology, known as ultra-wideband, could provide very high-speed wireless Internet access and a host of new wireless services, such as allowing users to track intruders with home radar, helping rescuers find earthquake victims and greatly improving collision-avoidance systems.
But the staff of the Federal Communications Commission is expected to reject industry calls for a full-powered version of the technology that would cover an entire house and limit transmission distances to about 30 feet. The plan has drawn heavy criticism from the Pentagon and the cell phone industry, which are worried that ultra-wideband could cause airwave interference.
"It's clear that the power levels are going to be lower than even" household portable phones, said Jeff Ross, vice president of corporate strategy and development for TimeDomain Corp., a Huntsville, Ala., company that has been developing the technology.
In addition, the FCC staff is expected to oppose most commercial and consumer applications of ultra-wideband tracking technology out of fear it might fall into the wrong hands.
"We think a conservative approach is appropriate at the outset," a top administration official said. "We can make adjustments later."
Although military and public safety personnel will be able to use ultra-wideband's radar capabilities to see through walls and other obstructions, the FCC staff wants to limit commercial applications to collision avoidance in automobiles.
The staff of the FCC was still negotiating late Wednesday with Pentagon, Commerce Department and industry representatives. Sources warned some provisions of the more than 100 pages of staff recommendations could change.
More than a decade in the making, the versatile ultra-wideband technology has been eagerly awaited by Intel Corp., Sony Corp. and other big backers looking to improve on an older wireless standard, called WiFi, that has been hurt by security problems and comparatively lower data speeds.
Despite the constraints the FCC is expected to place on ultra-wideband, the technology could remain useful for short distances, such as transmitting video from a camera to a nearby television set or sending data from a cell phone to a laptop, said Robert Scholtz, a USC professor of electrical engineering.