Andrew Zignani, Research Director for ABI's Strategic Technologies team,
is known for his deep analyses of the technological evolution and long-term
prospects of wireless connectivity. NXP asked Mr. Zignani to evaluate the market
for UWB-enabled IoT applications with this question in mind: where do we stand today in the expansion of UWB into the IoT?
Ultra-Wideband is not a new technology. Initially positioned as a data
transfer technology in a similar vein to Wi-Fi,
UWB was unable to build success for various reasons, including power
restrictions. Since then, the technology has repositioned itself, moving
towards an impulse radio-based, secure ranging and localization technology,
built upon the IEEE 802.15.4a standards. Additional security extensions being
added to the IEEE 802.15.4z standard provide UWB with the ability to provide
secure, authentic, centimeter-level accurate distance and location
Mobile as the Seeding Platform for New IoT Use Cases to Evolve
Apple’s decision to bring the U1 chip to its iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 series of
devices in late 2019 and throughout 2020 gave significant attention to
UWB technology. Samsung introduced UWB within its Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and Z
Fold 2 in August 2020 and has since incorporated UWB into its latest Galaxy
S21 Ultra and Galaxy S21+ devices released in January 2021. Most recently,
Apple and NXP announced plans to offer beta UWB development tools
that interoperate with the U1 chip in supported Apple products, thanks to
access to Apple’s Nearby Interaction protocol and API. This increased mobile
market presence will help to lay the foundation for UWB’s future success
across a wide range of IoT applications. This article looks at identified use
cases for UWB in the IoT.
To learn more about the specific IoT challenges and opportunities along with the
estimated market size, be sure to read ABI Research's latest commissioned
“Ultra-Wideband (UWB) for the IoT – A Fine Ranging Revolution?”.
Figure 1: HID Global and NXP demonstrate hands-free access with UWB.
Commercial and residential access control is perhaps the most natural
extension of UWB’s initial activities within the automotive secure access
realm. UWB tracks the user’s exact location in relation to the entrance or
exit, their security credentials and grants access instantly—hands-free and without human interaction.
UWB offers protection from relay attacks, making
it well suited for secure access applications. UWB can also detect if the user
is inside or outside the building, as well as if they are walking from or
towards an entrance or exit, preventing unauthorized access. Multisession
support also helps to prevent tailgating, ensuring that doors re-lock after
the user has gained access, preventing others from following.
UWB can also enable more advanced digital key capabilities. Residential users
can share credentials with friends and family, granting them temporary access
to their home as required. Similarly, room-hosting platforms can leverage
digital keys to provide access to guests without relying on the transfer of
physical keys, reducing issues ranging from loss of keys to theft prevention.
There is clear momentum for UWB access control solutions. Key members of the
FiRa Consortium™ include a number of industry leaders within the access control realm.
HID Global, NXP and Samsung showcased hands-free access control at CES 2020.
The growing presence of UWB within the automotive keyless entry realm will
also act as a catalyst and proof of concept to wider home and commercial
deployments of digital keys.
UWB for RTLS
Until recently, UWB was perhaps best known for its deployment within a number
of RTLS applications. Various assets have UWB tags attached to them, communicating
with anchors deployed around a factory, warehouse, healthcare
environment or other location. This ensures that the exact real-time location an
the item is known, allowing it to be located when required. UWB’s ability to
deliver centimeter-level location accuracy, ultra-low latency and robustness
in harsh environments has enabled it to build success in many commercial
environments for more stringent asset and vehicle tracking applications,
including vehicle navigation and collision detection, high-value tool and
equipment tracking and worker safety applications.
In most deployments, enterprises can take advantage of multiple use cases to
compound ROI and other benefits. For example, within healthcare environments,
RTLS solutions can track available beds to understand and maximise
utilization, trace valuable equipment to prevent theft or losses, monitor
staff for hygiene compliance purposes track patient and staff location for
safety purposes and ensure the right people have access to the right areas and
equipment at all times. In recent times, RTLS has also been deployed for
social distancing and contact tracing, helping to minimize the risk of
infection spreading. The NFL and the NBA used UWB throughout 2020 to monitor
social distancing and contact tracing within their bubbles, helping to ensure
the sporting season could continue.
Personal and Consumer Device Tracking
More recently, UWB is also being positioned as a personal
item tracking technology for consumer applications. Smartphones with UWB are
capable of locating items such as keys, wallets and other personal items with
a UWB tag attached to them. While BLE solutions dominates this space
historically, UWB provides more accurate, directional and low-latency
positioning. However, as with other UWB applications, BLE is also leveraged in
conjunction with UWB in these personal trackers for initial
pairing and handover.
In April 2021, Apple unveiled its AirTag solution which contains UWB, BLE and
NFC technology. Shortly after, Samsung officially launched its Galaxy
SmartTag+ tracker. Combining UWB and BLE, the SmartTag+ enables AR Finding as
part of its SmartThings Find service. Users can be visually guided to their
lost device using their smartphone’s camera, making it much easier to
precisely locate their items. Users can tag items as missing and other Galaxy
device owners can help to locate lost items as part of a crowdsourced network.
This could also help to create new services for mobile operators and insurance
companies, leading to new business models and additional value for end users.
As UWB becomes more ubiquitous within mobile devices, it could make it easier
to navigate large buildings and offer valuable new services. Users can find a
specific store in a shopping center, the right platform at a train station, the correct gate
at an airport or the right car park space in a
parking structure. It also has the ability to provide direct marketing and
provide companies with foot traffic analytics. UWB has the ability to provide
highly accurate positioning within buildings, unlike GNSS, which does not
function inside. While other technologies, such as Wi-Fi and BLE, can also
provide indoor navigation capabilities, UWB can offer much higher accuracy as
well as strong performance in non-line-of-sight scenarios. This could enable
more accurate wayfinding and proximity marketing services.
Figure 3: Xiaomi demonstrates UWB point-and-trigger functions (Image Source: Xiaomi).
As the name suggests, point-and-trigger applications involve pointing a
UWB-enabled smartphone towards other UWB-enabled connected home devices, such
as speakers, televisions, light bulbs or thermostats. While voice control is
optimal for simple tasks that are easy to describe, certain home automation and control tasks
can be cumbersome to describe.
Thanks to UWB’s high accuracy and direction capabilities, the
smartphone can detect exactly what device is being pointed at and
automatically open up a relevant control panel on the smartphone display.
This can then be utilized to turn a TV on or off, select the colour and
brightness of a smart light bulb, change the radio station, song or adjust
the volume on a speaker, turn up the thermostat or seamlessly cast video and
audio from the mobile device to a television or speaker. In addition to
control panels, smartphones could also pull up additional information, such as
song lyrics, further recommendations and other new ways of engagement. This
could help to drive valuable new entertainment services within the home.
Xiaomi recently demonstrated UWB leveraged within a variety of smart home devices such as
fans, lamps, and smart speakers—highlighting the growing potential of the UWB
ecosystem. Apple is already incorporating UWB in its HomePod
mini smart speaker to allow streamlined handoff of content such as music,
calls and podcasts with iPhones.
Presence Detection and Follow-Me
Embedding UWB within smart home devices allows such devices to respond to specific user
movements automatically, such as turning on a light, playing a preferred
playlist or adjusting the temperature. When a user enters or leaves a room, the settings follow them.
The presence of the user
activates these pre-set settings without involving any interaction, button
pressing or switches, instead enabling highly automated and personalized smart
home services. Personal profiles could be set up for homes with multiple
occupants, enabling certain smart home devices to adjust to their own unique
UWB can determine that the end user is within a specific room, or even in a
more specific location, enabling more contextual interaction. For example, UWB
embedded within a notebook PC could detect when the user is sitting at a desk and securely lock or unlock
the device as required, preventing any
intrusion. The low latency of UWB ensures a seamless and immediate experience.
Users won’t be frustrated waiting for lights to turn on or pointing to
a device that takes too long time to open up the correct control panel.
Combined, these efforts are leading to growing opportunities for UWB across a
growing number of markets. However, successful IoT deployments of UWB require
strong, interoperable solutions.
Find a deep analysis of UWB in the IoT at ABI Research's latest commissioned
“Ultra-Wideband (UWB) for the IoT – A Fine Ranging Revolution?”.
For more information, you can follow Andrew at @abi_zignani