“UBW is a wireless technology that uses radio frequency waves with low transmission power to precisely locate things in real-time, within a range of up to 20 meters indoors and up to 200m outdoors, with a clear line of sight.”
It is almost magic that we can remotely track things/objects/individuals within a few centimeters accuracy. It is fascinating to see what is now possible wasn’t seemed probable not so long ago. Use of Radio Waves for radio purposes vis-à-vis communication and entertainment has been a reality for quite some time now. People in remote areas in India can catch the commentary of an event or cricket match using radio but that seems like a 90s thing, doesn’t it. We are way past that. The evolution in internet from what it was in 90s to 4G LTE and 5G and 6G has not only created a network of internet connected things, i.e. The Internet of Things (IoT), which by the way is at approx 15B devices worldwide at present but also internet has connected the world over. People are now connected and not just devices.
Technology at Present
Technologies such as RFID, IoT, BLE, WLAN, LPWAN, UWB, RTLS, GPS etc. are some of the most prominent ones that we are most familiar with. All of them with unique use cases, most suitable for something in particular, absolutely critical to some domain. For example, BLE, UWB and LPWAN are most suitable for indoor tracking and smarthome projects. RFID, as an AIDC tech, is most suitable for asset identification and tracking over short distances. Bluetooth Low Energy finds great application in proximity advertisement and beaconing, sending low energy signal periodically (PAwR).
For years people know UWB (Ultra Wideband) as RTLS technology as it can locate things in real time with great precision and yes it can. The low transmission power in combination with a wide frequency range (between 3.1 GHz-10.6 GHz in the U.S. and 6.0 GHz-8.5 GHz in Germany) allows it to track things with accuracy and without interference. The 500MHz bandwidth (ultra wide) allows easy relaying lots of data between a transmitter and a receiver.
Ultra Wideband and RTLS
UWB, short for Ultra wideband, is a wireless technology that uses radio waves to precisely locate objects at short distances. With a clear line of sight, the technology allows you to track and locate things within a range of 20m indoors and 200m outdoors.
The main characteristic of UWB is that it transmits signals in the form of weak (low energy- limited to 10 nanowatts) individual pulses every few nanoseconds. And this is why it is so real-time. The constant signals help you track the objects in real-time within a few centimeters precision. And probably that is why people know it as RTLS.
The UWB technology is also very reliable as it operates within the same frequency range as WLAN and Bluetooth and other mobile communications (GHz) but it doesn’t interfere with those signals neither it is interfered with because of the low transmission strength.
The low transmission strength, sending low power signals, also ensures that the battery drain is minimal and that UWB chipped devices can easily last up to 3 years.
How UWB Location Tracking Works?
The UWB technology works by employing a transmitter and a receiver just like a radio. You have a radio at home which acts as a receiver and looks for radio signals or scans for particular signals. An UWB receiver does the same. The UWB transmitter sends low power signals over a wide frequency spectrum at the rate of two or more pulses/nanosecond and the signal is picked up by the UWB receiver in the vicinity (approx. 20m indoors and 200m outdoors). In particular, the location awareness comes from measuring the Time of Flight (ToF) measurement between two UWB devices, one being the transmitter and other being the receiver, unlike RFID, which is also a tracking technology.
Given the fast signal transmission, the UWB technology was previously known as Pulse Radio and it was in limited use in medical imaging and military communications but come 2019, the smartphone manufacturing company Apple Inc. integrated UWB technology into their latest iPhone 11 lineup.
The U1 chip in iPhone 11 brings a host of functions to the smartphone when used in conjunction with internet. From location tracking to short range data transmission, UWB is also very useful in wearables.
Moreover, the UWB standard also includes a MIMO (multiple-input and multiple-output), distributed antenna system that improves the range of the UWB and the reception, making it more reliable over short range. The antenna can be added to smartphone, smartwatch, smartband, smart key etc.
To conclude, UWB is a great technology that provides a high degree of accuracy while tracking a UWB enabled object over a short range. It can precisely locate the object with few centimeters precision, over a range of up to 20m while indoor and 200m while outdoor. Since the pulse energy is quite low, the signals cannot penetrate a wall like Wi-Fi signals, so a clear line of sight becomes integral to its functioning.
An UBW chip U1 is now present in Apple iPhone 11 since its launch in 2019 and the company is looking to expand the typical UWB uses to short range IoT use cases and data transmission. It can now be found in smartphone, smartwatch, smart key etc.