1. The UWB Alliance is a comparatively young organization. When and why was it founded?
The UWB Alliance celebrated its inaugural meeting in March 2018. I was the chairman of the IEEE 802.15.4z Task Group, where we worked on improving the UWB standards. When there were only about 6 months left until the .4z standard was published, several companies from the Task Group decided to continue working together in a new forum. This was the beginning of the UWB Alliance.
2. Which goals does the UWB Alliance pursue?
As an organization, our goal is to effect regulatory change in the U.S., the EU and other regulatory regions. I am also vice chairman of the European ETSI TGUWB, where we also focus on UWB.
The Alliance is dedicated to expanding the regulatory environment for UWB products and developing coexistence strategies for sharing spectrum with other RF devices and services. Members and staff are also working with the IEEE.
3. Since you mention sharing spectrum with other RF devices – does UWB cause interference?
That's not the case, but I can understand why you might think that. These bands are already occupied by so many users. But UWB is different. Most technologies use modulated radio waves as carriers for encoded data. UWB is extremely low-power, transmitting small units of information with nanosecond- long pulses that overlap other transmissions. Because UWB pulses generate noise similar to that of a computer, they can easily coexist within the frequency band.
The pulse method ensures that UWB signals do not interfere with other wireless technologies and resist their interference. This is what makes UWB so robust.
4. What can UWB be used for then?
When the technology was first approved in the early 2000s, it was used for small-scale applications. Much of it was industrial and some was used in sports. With the IEEE 802.15.4f standard, UWB was used for sports tracking in all NFL stadiums. The NFL tracks the players and the football. The ball is tracked about 2,000 times per second as it is thrown through the air, and the players are tracked about 12 times per second. So tracking has been a key application. However, with integration into smartphones by virtually all major manufacturers, the range of applications has greatly expanded.
5. Why is UWB more successful at tracking than other technologies?
It's just extremely accurate. I was working on tracking with broadband technology at a company called WhereNet, which was acquired by Zebra Technologies. This technology operated in the 2.4 GHz band, so it looked like RFID, but it could do so much more than RFID. Together with AIM, we called it Real Time Locating Service, RTLS. That was the beginning for industrial and military applications as well as logistics. At that time, I was very excited about the high locating accuracy. At 2.4 GHz, we could only be accurate to within 30 cm, but today we are talking about an accuracy of about 1 cm with UWB.
6. Are there other uses for UWB besides tracking?
Yes, of course! UWB is now very wide- spread. iPhones have had UWB since series 11, and Samsung devices are also UWB-enabled. Instead of a key fob, the phone can now open and start the car. Mobile payments are currently being tested with UWB. Apple is also using UWB for AirDrop and the AirTag. There are also many smart home applications.
7. Is UWB still used in industrial manufacturing?
Yes, UWB transponders are especially used in automotive manufacturing. BMW, for example, uses it on the assembly line. Different vehicles come onto the line, and the torque settings on the cordless assembly tools have to be different for each of them. That is why the vehicles have UWB tags on the front. The UWB system identifies the individual vehicle and sends a message that automatically adjusts the torque settings on the line for that type of vehicle, which saves a lot of time.
8. So what would you say: Is the story of UWB a success story?
It really looks that way at this point! Until 2019, only several tens of thousands of UWB chips and devices were sold per year. Demand has grown tremendously. In 2020, the iPhone 11 sold 64 Million units by itself. Adding the 12, 13 and the Samsung 21+ it is measured in hundreds of millions.