What is UWB communication technology?

Top-end smartphones have one little-known feature. This is the UWB wireless communication standard. It debuted in the iPhone 11 series and a year later appeared in the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.

Ultra-Wide Band, or ultra-wideband communication (hereinafter referred to as UWB), refers to wireless modes of communication over a short distance. In this sense, it is related to NFC and Bluetooth. What distinguishes it from existing standards, however, is a unique set of technical requirements. In the coming years, UWB communication will become available to more gadgets, so you need to get an idea of ​​\u200b\u200bit today.

How does UWB work?

Old and well-known methods of wireless data transmission differ from each other in the power, frequency and/or phase of a sinusoidal signal to encode data, but not simple pulses. The principle of operation of UWB differs from them primarily in that it is a technology based on a pulse train. It involves the transmission of data over a short distance in the radio frequency range of 3.1-10.6 GHz.

For stable operation, the pulse method requires a wide spectrum of frequencies, hence the name of the connection - ultra-wideband. One radio frequency band is usually 500 MHz wide (in the case of 4G LTE it is 5-20 MHz, and Wi-Fi is 20-80 MHz). Over a wide spectrum, pulse data can move at high speed and accuracy. Depending on the frequency, a UWB signal can reach speeds from 4 Mbps to 675 Mbps and even higher. This is ten times faster than NFC 424 Kbps, several times faster than Bluetooth with a standard rate of 2.1 Mbps, but slower than Wi-Fi 6 with its 2 Gbps.

As a rule, wireless technologies are limited to a narrow spectrum of frequencies so as not to interfere with each other's work. UWB eliminates the problem of interference by operating at very low power levels (within the noise floor of other communications). In other words, the UWB spectrum is wide and easy to detect, but the signal strength is kept to a minimum so as not to interfere with other communications.

Another feature of burst transmission is that time-of-flight information can be calculated from the received data. If you know the time and data rate, then it is easy to calculate the distance between the transmitter and the signal receiver. Superene, of course, these data will not: the error in geolocation at ultra-wideband communication is 10 cm or less, but it is still much more accurate than the information obtained via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi (in both cases an error of about 1 meter, although in some Cases Bluetooth 5.1 demonstrates the same accuracy as the SSP communications). As you can guess, high-precision geodata are important for geolocation and security applications.

Speaking about use options, ultra-wideband communication is positioned as a secure way to unlock cars and smart doors. The UWB gadget can be used to find the lost devices (like Bluetooth-based search beacons), internal navigation, mobile payments and interaction with goods in the store. Apple Airdrop and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra already use this technology to transfer large files by air, but this is just one and far from the most promising version of the application of the new standard.

What are the advantages of UWB in front of NFC and Bluetooth?

The prospects for using UWB look familiar, since NFC and Bluetooth have been used for all these tasks. Then the question arises: why was another wireless standard created? There are good reasons for this.

Bluetooth operates at a frequency of 2.4 GHz with a small channel width of only 80 MHz and is suitable for indoor use. However, it is in the same spectrum as some Wi-Fi signals, and therefore are subject to interference. UWB communication, due to a wider spectrum, is subject to interference to a lesser extent, therefore the scope of its application is much wider and in everyday life, and in industry. However, the range of such a connection is less than that of Bluetooth. As for NFC, this technology is intended for data transmission on very short distances - about 4 cm at a frequency of 13.56 MHz.

Old technologies have a commercial advantage: NFC and Bluetooth are already inexpensive in implementation, especially in low-power devices and passive nutrition. UWB can not boast of similar profitability. That is why in the coming years NFC does not go anywhere and will be actively used in non-contact payment systems. A wide range of Bluetooth, audio funks and a large range of action make it in a sense functionality of UWB, so this type of communication will also not lose demands in the foreseeable future.

However, the UWB is priority in cases where high-speed data transmission is needed, fast and maximum accurate geolocation and / or low risk of interference. This technology is promising in scenarios requiring additional security, for example, for wireless access to the car.

The ultra-wideband communication has its pros and cons, so it cannot be considered as a direct replacement for any communication technology that has already settled in the market.

Smartphones with UWB support

The technology of the ultra-wideband bond appeared not yesterday, the scientists spent on its development already More than ten years, but in smartphones it began to be applied only recently. It is now presented only in some flagships of premium class:

  • Apple iPhone 11.
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro.
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max.
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.

It is expected that the following flagship generations from other manufacturers will also receive UWB support. Gradually, the technology will be embedded in the mid-level device, and then in budget, but up to this point will be held a lot of years.