November 25, 2022

What is ultra broadband? Wireless technology explained


The smartphone industry, filled with booming launch events and features described as revolutionary and magical, has taken a detour when it comes to touting ultra-broadband technology.

The iPhone 11 of September 2019 was the first smartphone to incorporate this technology, inside Apple’s new U1 chip. Ultra-broadband is also appearing on the iPhone 12 family and the Samsung Galaxy Note 20, and more recently on the newer Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus and S21 Ultra.

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But, for now at least, you’d be forgiven for not knowing what ultra broadband is, why it can be useful, and even if your phone (or whatever device you own) has it or no. That could change this year, in 2021, as we start to see practical uses for a technology loosely related to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but which began life in the military 30 years ago as radar.

What is ultra broadband?

In its simplest form, ultra wideband – or UWB – is radio technology that consumes very little power and is used for short-range communications. It operates at a very high bandwidth, hence its name, and covers a large part of the radio spectrum.

UWB is a form of pulse radio, where data is sent in fast pulses (up to one billion per second) over a wide radio spectrum ranging from 3.1 to 10.6 GHz. Each pulse is around 500 MHz wide, making it much wider than the 5-20 MHz range of 4G and the 20-80 MHz of Wi-Fi.

Thanks to these characteristics, data can be sent in UWB very quickly and without losing precision during its transfer between devices. UWB is also less susceptible to interference than other wireless technologies such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

The speed of data transmitted by UWB can reach 675 Mbps, which far exceeds 2.1 Mbps of Bluetooth, but is far behind the potential of 2 Gbps of Wi-Fi.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Pus and S21 Ultra have UWB


UWB technology had been applied to a wide variety of applications before it appeared on smartphones in 2019. It was used as part of radar technology by the US military in the 1990s, where experiments were conducted. to prove if UWB could be used to estimate speed. moving targets.

The UWB can also be used to monitor a person’s heart and respiratory rate, as well as to analyze their gait and serve as a form of fall detection. It was also tested on the New York Subway signaling system on Line L and also on Line 7 in 2019 where it was described as a “game changer” helping to reduce delays.

The NFL also uses UWB sensors to track the location and movement of soccer players and the ball during a game.

While diverse, these apps all have one thing in common: They rely on the UWB to accurately determine the location and movement of a target. This is the reason why Apple, Samsung and undoubtedly others want to bring UWB into the mainstream tech space.

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Why is UWB installed on smartphones

Apple started the UWB trend for smartphones with the iPhone 11 in 2019, and more recently the company added its UWB-enabled U1 chip to the iPhone 12 family and HomePod Mini smart speaker.

With the iOS 14.4 update released on January 26, the first UWB feature was enabled to support the pass-through feature for audio between iPhone 11 and 12 and HomePod Mini. In this app, the U1 chips with UWBs on the iPhone and HomePod Mini can find their way around and then share very precise location information including their distance and relative position.

For Apple users, this means holding an iPhone playing music near a HomePod Mini will trigger the transfer function. The iPhone begins to pulse using its haptic motor, the pulses speeding up as it gets closer to the smart speaker. An interface will then appear, where the user can choose to toggle music playback (or any current sound, such as a phone call) from iPhone to HomePod Mini.

Apple HomePod Mini and iPhone 12
Apple HomePod Mini and iPhone 12


Bluetooth could do that too, but this technology lacks the pinpointing accuracy of UWB. Also critical here is how UWB technology can be used to accurately calculate time of flight, further boosting its accuracy benchmarks.

Beyond the practical delivery of music, UWB technology should be used by possession tracking devices. Tile is reportedly working on a new version of its Bluetooth tracker that uses UWB for more precise tracking, and Apple is expected to announce a rival called AirTag this year, also using UWB. When it comes to finding a lost set of keys in a field, UWB’s added precision over Bluetooth could prove invaluable.

Samsung also entered the tracker market this year with its SmartTags. The first version uses Bluetooth as Tile, but Samsung says another model expected later in 2021 will have UWB for greater accuracy (but only with Note 20 and S21 compatible handsets for now).

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UWB uses beyond the smartphone

In addition to greater accuracy, UWB is a more secure medium for transferring data than Bluetooth and NFC, making it a good option for the growing trend of replacing car key fobs with smartphones. Some automakers already allow the use of a smartphone with Bluetooth in place of a dongle, but it is likely that they will switch to UWB once the technology is rolled out to more handsets and takes hold. proven to be the superior, safer and more accurate option.

Looking at the list of members of the UWB Alliance gives further clues as to where the technology might appear in the future. Members include iRobot, the makers of the Roomba vacuum robot, automaker Hyundai, and smartphone company Oppo.

Members of another UWB industry group, the FiRa Consortium, include Bosch, Qualcomm, Samsung, Cisco, Sony, Facebook, Tile and Hyundai.

Tile tracker
Tile should add UWB technology to its trackers


UWB and the smart homee

We don’t yet know what the future holds for UWB use in the smart home beyond Apple’s tentative steps with the HomePod Mini. But here we see real potential, because when a device like a speaker or smart display knows the precise location of every member of the household (via their smartphone or portable device), it can act reliably and in a personalized way. .

If a speaker or screen knows you’re alone in the room, it can share your personal calendar and find the right contact when you ask it to make a call. But if other people are also in the room, he can remember calendar events and ask to verify exactly which contact you want to call.

A TV or media streamer could show your Netflix profile if it knows you’re the only person in the room, or even if you’re the person holding the controller, assuming it also has UWB technology.

UWB could also help you quickly open the right smartphone app on your phone. Suppose you want to interact with a robotic vacuum cleaner; you could hold your phone close to it and UWB would recognize the robot nearby and then open the app used to set up its cleaning schedule.

The rollout of ultra-broadband has been unusually slow for a tech industry that continues to chuckle at the Next Big Thing. But it might be a good idea, where giants like Apple and Samsung, as well as smaller companies like Tile, take a thoughtful and hands-on approach to UWB, instead of orchestrating a glitzy launch full of promise, before dropping it.

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