Consortium looks to revive ultra-wideband for fine-ranging applications

A new consortium has launched to drive ultra-wideband (UWB) technology for accurate fine ranging applications, and to ensure interoperability across the ecosystem of chipset, device and service infrastructure through standards and certifications.

The FiRa Consortium, driven by four sponsor members, aims to build on the IEEE 802.15.4/4z standard for low-data-rate wireless connectivity and enhanced ranging. It says it will develop an interoperability standard based on the IEEE’s profiled features, defining mechanisms that are out of scope of the IEEE standard, and pursuing activities that support rapid development of specific use cases.

The FiRa consortium will build on teh IEEE standard and help ensure interoperability (Image: FiRa)

The sponsor members are The ASSA ABLOY Group, which includes HID Global, and NXP Semiconductors, Samsung Electronics, and Bosch; the first companies to join the newly formed FiRa organization are Sony Imaging Products & Solutions Inc., LitePoint and the Telecommunications Technology Association (TTA).

Why UWB and what is different now?

So, what is different about this UWB technology compared to the one that faded away a few years ago as a localized standard for applications like wireless HDMI? In a briefing with EE Times, Rafael Sotomayor, senior vice president, GM at NXP Semiconductors, explained that UWB originally served as a technology for high data-rate communication and as such was in direct competition with WiFi. “It never found a footing because WiFi got better and there was never a need for high-speed Bluetooth,” he commented.

Since then, UWB has undergone several transformations. It evolved from an OFDM-based data communication approach to an impulse radio technology specified in IEEE 802.15.4a (2ns pulses with time of flight and angle of arrival measurements); additionally, a security extension being specified in IEEE 802.15.4z (at PHY/RF level) makes it a unique secure fine ranging and sensing technology.

“Hence what is different now is that it is a sensing technology and not a communications technology. This is the first time you can truly include accurate spatial information. You can already do ranging with Bluetooth or with other technologies, but the best accuracy you might get is 2 meters. This is not enough for, say, positioning applications where you need precise location.” He added, “For the first time, we have technology that gives you accuracy with low latency, and it is quite resistant to blockers, such as line of sight blockers.”

The move from data communication to secure sensing offers spatial context capability to a variety of applications, such as seamless access control, location-based services, and device-to-device services.

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