Ultra wideband or UWB wireless technology is a short-range wireless communication protocol. ULB has gradually been accepted and trusted by users around the world and now coexists with other commonly used standards such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC. However, it should not be confused with the ultra-wideband mobile network which is another 5G mmWave technology. Here we are going to discuss all the details about the ultra-wideband wireless technology of which you should be aware.
What is ultra-wideband wireless technology and what is it used for?
Ultra-wideband wireless technology is used to locate objects in the real world with high accuracy as it offers extremely high location and direction accuracy. UWB technology is already present in connected tracking devices like the — Samsung Galaxy SmartTag Plus and the Apple Air Tag.
Additionally, automakers such as BMW, Audi, Ford, and Hyundai have claimed that UWB-equipped devices can also act as a secure digital key. Various forms of keyless entry technology exist these days, however, adopting UWB will also be more secure compared to other wireless standards. UWB technology will allow vehicles to measure the exact location of the key fob in real time, within centimeters. On the other hand, Bluetooth 5.1 offers lower positioning accuracy than UWB, which is only accurate to the nearest meter. BMW mentions: “Your car will be able to recognize when you’re getting close and automatically unlock, turn on its lights or even launch pre-configured custom settings.”
UWB chips can also be integrated into other devices like smartphones and smartwatches. This technology will also be convenient for car owners as they don’t have to carry a separate key fob. Samsung is working on a digital key platform that will allow users to unlock the front doors of their cars using a UWB-enabled or wearable device. As NFC-based mobile payments have eliminated the need to carry physical bank cards, UWB is expected to phase out the use of physical car keys.
How does the technology work?
UWB works differently from other wireless data transfer technologies. UWB is a pulse-pattern radio-based technology that sends data in the time domain. It works with a spectrum ranging from 3.1 to 10.6 GHz. As the name suggests, the pulse method requires a lot more spectrum compared to other protocols to work reliably. A single UWB band is typically 500 MHz wide, while a 4G LTE band ranges from 5 to 20 MHz, and a Wi-Fi band ranges from 20 MHz to 80 MHz.
Pulse data can be sent very quickly without loss of accuracy due to the wide spectrum. Depending on the frequency, UWB can achieve data rates ranging from 4 Mbps to 675 Mbps or more, which is far faster than NFC’s 424 Kbps and Bluetooth’s standard 2.1 Mbps speeds. However, Wi-Fi 6 achieves higher speeds of 2 Gbps.
To avoid interference between them, wireless technologies are generally limited to very narrow bands. UWB operates at very low power levels that are in the noise floor of other wireless applications, which helps this technology avoid the problem of interference. In summary, the wide spectrum allows UWB to be easily detectable while its low power does not interfere with other signals.
Another advantage of using this pulse-based transfer is that it can be used to calculate time-of-flight information from received data. The distance between the transmitter and the receiver can be calculated once the time taken for the signal to bounce and the data transfer speed are known. It even negates the risk of relay attacks, a trick commonly used by car thieves. This trick consists of intercepting and rebroadcasting radio signals to unlock a vehicle.
Difference between UWB, NFC and Bluetooth
Bluetooth offers decent range for indoor use as it operates in the 2.4 GHz band, but it is still susceptible to interference as it uses the same spectrum as some WiFi signals. UWB has been adopted for industrial applications because its wide spectrum is much less prone to interference, but it does not have a long range like Bluetooth. On the contrary, NFC operates at 13.56 MHz and most implementations require physical proximity for data transfer, while UWB transmission distance falls somewhere between Bluetooth and NFC.
Bluetooth and NFC are relatively inexpensive to implement for low-power tags or passively powered NFC tags, while UWB is more expensive and requires an active power source. UWB will be advantageous when the main requirements include high-speed data transfers, fast location detection with high accuracy, and low risk of interference.
Devices that support ultra-wideband wireless technology
UWB has been available for a few years now, however, it’s still not as mainstream as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. UWB technology is limited to some of the most expensive devices available on the market. But that may change as the technology is adopted in consumer vehicles and tracking devices. Some of the smartphones and wearables that support UWB technology include — all Apple iPhone 11, 12 and 13 series models, Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, Google Pixel 6 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus/Ultra and S22 Plus/ Ultra, Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 and Z Fold 3 as well as Apple Watch Series 6 and Series 7. More and more manufacturers are expected to include UWB support in their next flagship generations, however, mid-tier and affordable devices are still far from getting this technology. soon.