UWB Comes to Smart Phones
Updated: Jul 7, 2021
Both Apple and Samsung have introduced high-end phones with ultra-wideband capability. What is it, what does it mean for the user and how might it apply to mobile business applications and asset tracking?
What is UWB?
UWB is a radio-based technology that sends data as timed pulses over a wide frequency spectrum 3 – 10 GHz; a single band is 500 MHz wide. That sets it apart from other protocols like WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC and similar, which occupy a relatively narrow band and vary power, frequency or phase to carry data. This gives it some notable performance differences
It transmits at much lower power making it very much less susceptible to interference, or interfering, even though it shares bandwidth with WiFi at 5GHz.
It can transfer data at relatively high rates compared with Bluetooth and NFC, up to 675 Mbps currently.
Since it uses time-based modulation it is possible to accurately resolve distance between transmitter and receiver. This will be beneficial in security / access control applications, making sure the correct ‘thing’ is unlocked on presence. Introducing more receivers enables this to be computed into a position, accurate to better than 30cm in two dimensions. By adding more complexity, it can accurately resolve position in all three dimensions. In short, it can deliver a precise location.
Which phones have it?
Currently Apple iPhone 11 and 12, Samsung S21 Plus, S21 Ultra and Note Ultra.
What will it mean for the user?
In the smart phone UWB is competing with Bluetooth, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Near field Communications (NFC) and WiFi. Since it offers interference-free high data rates at low power it will find applications in file transfer and streaming. It will enable the possibility of a ‘Digital Key’ for the smart phone user, unlocking the door to your home or car as you approach.
What are the drawbacks?
Whilst UWB has been around for years it is new to smartphones. The economies of scale have yet to be realised, new use cases need to be invented and the apps developed. NFC, Bluetooth and Wifi already have that economy of scale and so have the benefits of low-cost mature infrastructures. NFC tags cost pence, BLE tags a few pounds and UWB tags are still tens of pounds. It could be several years before the commercial viability levels up. Currently UWB is only available in high-end phones. It needs to be built in to all as standard before a real transformation can be realised.
How will it benefit business?
Digital key security and has a clear potential benefit in terms is access control (getting in to a G1 Unmanned Store for example), as well as high-speed data transfer. Getting accurate location data from a ubiquitous smart phone using tools like Codegate’s Asset Inventory app could be transformational in terms of asset tracking and management. With the right infrastructure it’s possible to accurately locate thousands of assets in real time (see UWB on this site). Having UWB-enabled smart phones will accelerate this development and help to drive costs down.