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This thesis evaluates the potential of Ultra Wideband Impulse Radio for wireless sensor network applications. Wireless sensor networks are collections of small electronic devices composed of one or more sensors to acquire information on their environment, an energy source (typically a battery), a microcontroller to control the measurements, process the information and communicate with its peers, and a radio transceiver to enable these communications. They are used to regularly collect information within their deployment area, often for very long periods of time (up to several years). The large number of devices often considered, as well as the long deployment durations, makes any manual intervention complex and costly. Therefore, these networks must self-configure, and automatically adapt to changes in their electromagnetic environment (channel variations, interferers) and network topology modifications: some nodes may run out of energy, or suffer from a hardware failure. Ultra Wideband Impulse Radio is a novel wireless technology that, thanks to its extremely large bandwidth, is more robust to frequency dependent propagation effects. Its impulsional nature makes it robust to multipath fading, as the short duration of the pulses leads most multipath components to arrive isolated. This technology should also enable high precision ranging through time of flight measurements, and operate at ultra low power levels. The main challenge is to design a system that reaches the same or higher degree of energy savings as existing narrowband systems considering all the protocol layers. As these radios are not yet widely available, the first part of this thesis presents Maximum Pulse Amplitude Estimation, a novel approach to symbol-level modeling of UWB-IR systems that enabled us to implement the first network simulator of devices compatible with the UWB physical layer of the IEEE 802.15.4A standard for wireless sensor networks. In the second part of this thesis, WideMac, a novel ultra low power MAC protocol specifically designed for UWB-IR devices is presented. It uses asynchronous duty cycling of the radio transceiver to minimize the power consumption, combined with periodic beacon emissions so that devices can learn each other's wake-up patterns and exchange packets. After an analytical study of the protocol, the network simulation tool presented in the first part of the thesis is used to evaluate the performance of WideMac in a medical body area network application. It is compared to two narrowband and an FM-UWB solutions. The protocol stack parameters are optimized for each solution, and it is observed that WideMac combined to UWB-IR is a credible technology for such applications. Similar simulations, considering this time a static multi-hop network are performed. It is found that WideMac and UWB-IR perform as well as a mature and highly optimized narrowband solution (based on the WiseMAC ULP MAC protocol), despite the lack of clear channel assessment functionality on the UWB radio. The last part of this thesis studies analytically a dual mode MAC protocol named WideMac-High Availability. It combines the Ultra Low PowerWideMac with the higher performance Aloha protocol, so that ultra low power consumption and hence long deployment times can be combined with high performance low latency communications when required by the application. The potential of this scheme is quantified, and it is proposed to adapt it to narrowband radio transceivers by combining WiseMAC and CSMA under the name WiseMAC-HA.