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Wireless sensor networks are emerging as an important area for communications. They enable a wealth of new applications including surveillance, building control, factory automation, and in-vehicle sensing. The sensor nodes have to operate under severe constraints on energy consumption and form factor, and provide the ability for precise self-location of the nodes. These requirements can be fulfilled very well by various forms of ultra-wide-band (UWB) transmission technology. We discuss various techniques and tradeoffs in UWB systems and indicate that time-hopping and frequency-hopping impulse radio physical layers combined with simple multiple-access techniques like ALOHA are suitable designs. We also describe the IEEE 802.15.4a standard, an important system that adopts UWB impulse radio to ensure robust data communications and precision ranging. In order to accommodate heterogeneous networks, it uses specific modulation, coding, and ranging waveforms that can be detected well by both coherent and noncoherent receivers.