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There is an old but rather unknown technology that has been gaining strength in the last two years and is starting to become popular, namely UWB or ultra-wideband technology. It was at the end of 2019 that the UWB concept resurfaced with the introduction of the iPhone 11 Pro, which became the first smartphone to incorporate a chip with this technology.
At that time, experts started talking again about this forgotten technology, and it is now considered to play a very important role in the field of smart homes, Virtual and Augmented Reality, security and geolocation. In fact, it is estimated that UWB’s global market will grow from $1.1 billion in 2020 to $2.7 billion by 2025, at a compound annual rate of 19.6%.
The main factors that are driving this growth are the deployment of this technology on various mobile devices, the growth in demand for real-time location systems and the growth in the adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
UWB is a protocol that allows short range wireless communications that, like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, uses radio waves to allow devices to communicate with each other. But it differs substantially in that it operates at a very high frequency. As its name suggests, it also uses a wide spectrum of several GHz.
UWB transmits data over short distances and accurately determines location by measuring how long it takes a radio pulse to travel between the devices. In addition, due to the wide spectrum, data can be sent very quickly without losing accuracy. UWB can achieve data rates from 4 Mbps to 675 Mbps or higher, depending on the frequency. That’s much faster than standard NFC speeds of 424 Kbps and Bluetooth speeds of 2.1 Mbps, but not as fast as the 2 Gbps speeds that can be achieved with WiFi-6.
A UWB transmitter sends billions of radio pulses across the wide-spectrum frequency and a UWB receiver then translates those pulses into data. In addition, UWB achieves real-time accuracy because it sends up to one billion pulses per second (approximately 1 per nanosecond).
In the early 2000s, UWB technology saw limited use in military radar and covert communications, and was briefly used as a form of medical imaging, such as remote cardiac monitoring systems. At that time, the cost of implementation and lower than initially expected performance limited the use of UWB in consumer products.
Today, UWB chips are cheap and small enough to be placed in other devices, and the industry claims that it could be more successful than Bluetooth because it has a higher speed, is cheaper, uses less energy, is safer, and provides superior location and device range information.
UWB technology enables superior performance compared to traditional broadband systems. In addition to this, its benefits include:
However, there are also certain disadvantages of this technology. One of these is the loss of transmission power which limits the UWB signals so that they can only communicate over a short range. But the biggest disadvantage is that other technologies such as Wi-fi or Bluetooth can interact with virtually all devices that currently exist, UWB has only just begun and can only be used on a few devices. However, UWB is expected to catch up with these two technologies quickly, as many smartphone manufacturers are doing the same as Apple did in its day and are including UWB technology in their devices.
With its high accuracy, fast transmission and high reliability, UWB technology is ready to help companies locate moving people and objects in all kinds of environments and processes.
UWB has an advantage in both accuracy and security over Bluetooth and WiFi technologies, and that advantage can be used in many different use cases.
With the arrival of the Covid-19, the need arose to implement a series of strategies to combat it. Two of the most important strategies for dealing with the pandemic have been social distancing and contact tracking or tracing. Since then, many organisations worldwide have used UWB technology to address the Covid-19 crisis, as the accurate real-time measurement of location and distance enables UWB technology to determine the exact location of a device to within inches, both indoors and outdoors.
This accuracy makes UWB extremely well suited to the much-needed contact tracking and social distancing applications being developed in many countries to help prevent the spread of the pandemic. In fact, UWB is the only technology available that can offer the level of accuracy required for this type of application.
Unlike other wireless technologies, UWB provides the accuracy needed to be absolutely sure whether someone was close enough to others to transmit the virus, as it can calculate the distance between people who are inches apart with precision.
UWB is also used in social distancing applications, which are designed to ensure that people maintain a safe distance from each other. For example, in one company an employee can wear a UWB wearable and it can alert him, in real time, when he gets too close to someone. This solution can reduce the spread of the virus in a company, as well as improve the security of employees.
Although this is a technology that started quite a few years ago, it is as if it were new, as it is now that companies are starting to work on it and incorporate it into their devices, but this is only the beginning of a possible revolution in UWB technology.
Its potential is just beginning to be seen. The technology is enabling a wave of applications that use high-precision distance and location detection to provide new experiences and capabilities, including many applications that were previously not possible.
UWB can potentially be used in almost everything from wireless printers to contactless payments, and from the automotive sector to healthcare, smart home, logistics, retail or sports. It all depends on finding that one application or function that makes it worthwhile.
It is important to note that UWB technology does not necessarily have to replace Wi-fi, NFC or Bluetooth, as it can work with them.
The potential of UWB is enormous and although it will probably take a long time to see this technology more widely used globally, one thing is certain: UWB is poised to change the way people live and work.