New Tech Tuesdays: Ultra-Wideband Is Finding Space Among Data, Lo
 
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New Tech Tuesdays: Ultra-Wideband Is Finding Space Among Data, Locating Technologies Tommy Cummings

New Tech Tuesdays

Join journalist Tommy Cummings for a weekly look at all things interesting, new, and noteworthy for design engineers.

Ultra-Wideband (UWB) has been around for a while. In the early 2000s, UWB was briefly used in military radars and for covert communications. But its adoption caught on when commercial interests began exploring other potential uses.

In 2019, the technology got its break when Apple introduced its U1 chip in the iPhone 11 which incorporated UWB for file and photo transfers when the user’s phones were in close proximity to each other’s. Other smartphone manufacturers followed with variations of UWB integrated circuits (ICs).  

Today UWB applications ranged from AirTags/SmartTags+, digital car keys, real time location systems, and precise indoor locating.

What Is UWB and How Does It Work?

UWB is an extremely low-power, low-latency short-range, wireless communication protocol—like BLUETOOTH® or Wi-Fi™—that uses a wide spectrum of high frequencies to provide spatial and directional data.

For example, two UWB devices will know where the other is with greater precision than using BLUETOOTH® or a global positioning system (GPS). The high bandwidth (>500MHz) is ideal for data relay from a host device to other devices up to about 30 feet away, but walls can be an issue.

How does it work? UWB transmission information is based on the generation of radio energy (pulses) at specific intervals while occupying a wide bandwidth, enabling pulse-positioning and time-modulation. A UWB transmitter sends billions of pulses across the wide spectrum frequency while a corresponding receiver translates the pulses into data. UWB operates in a frequency range of 3.1GHz and 10.6GHz.

In this week's New Tech Tuesdays, we'll look at products from Microchip Technology, Abracon, and Qorvo that designers can use in UWB development.

Transceivers, Antennas, and RF Modules

Microchip Technology's line of ATA835x Ultra-Wide-Band (UWB) Transceivers provides an integrated security layer for secure data communication. The ATA8350 transmitter can generate accurate pulse durations ranging from less than 1ns to more than 10ns with a controlled envelope shape. The ATA8350 also includes a Media Access Control (MAC) layer for secure distance-bounding measurement and point-to-point data communication for proximity-based access control. This layer can be configured to ensure different degrees of security. Designers will appreciate the devices' ability to generate a carrier frequency between 6.2GHz and 7.8GHz.

Abracon's line of ACRxU SMD Ultra-Wideband Chip Antennas supports low power, short-range, and high bandwidth requirements for UWB applications. They can replace multiple narrow-band antennas while providing design flexibility and usability that ensures seamless connectivity. These chip antennas are ideal for home network connectivity, precise position, real-time location services (RTLS), and indoor localization. They're compatible with UWB sensor modules operating in channels 1 through 9.

Qorvo's DWM3000 RF Module offers design flexibility with a wide range of microcontrollers. The DWM3000 is ideal for asset tracking, navigation, and consumer applications. The module simplifies design by blending the DW3110 integrated circuit, ceramic UWB antenna, power management, and crystal. The module allows the location of objects to a precision of 10cm. The DWM3000 also features low power consumption, which allows battery power to last longer. The module supports an 850kbps and 6.8Mbps data rate.

Tuesday's Takeaway

Ultra-Wideband connectivity is poised to become a major player in the world of consumer and industrial electronics. UWB combined with the Internet of Things (IoT) technology will enable new applications in smart homes, indoor navigation, contactless payment, factory automation, and more. As it powers its way into being a force in the ranging space, UWB has advantages over other similar technologies: It's more precise, uses less power, and coexist transparently with existing communications systems to provide spatial awareness.



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Tommy Cummings is a freelance writer/editor based in Texas. He's had a journalism career that has spanned more than 40 years. He contributes to Texas Monthly and Oklahoma Today magazines. He's also worked at The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, San Francisco Chronicle, and others. Tommy covered the dot-com boom in Silicon Valley and has been a digital content and audience engagement editor at news outlets. Tommy worked at Mouser Electronics from 2018 to 2021 as a technical content and product content specialist.


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