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The theoretical sensitivity of conventional partial discharge detectors is compared with that obtained from ultra wideband (UWB) (up to l GHz) detection systems. The comparison indicates that for relatively lossfree distributed systems, such as SF6 insulated bus, the UWB system is up to two orders of magnitude more sensitive. UWB detection also embodies additional advantages such as facilitating the location of discharge sites and the rejection of external electrical noise. For discharge detection in plastic-insulated cables, true UWB detection is not practical because of frequency-dependent attenuation effects, although certain gains in sensitivity can be achieved with a detector bandwidth of up to 10 MHz.