Renesas Electronics is to license secure ultra-wideband (UWB) technology from Switzerland-based fabless semiconductor company 3db Access. The companies announced they have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) and are working on the terms of the collaboration agreement.
Spurred by the intensity of interest in UWB technology since the launch of Apple’s iPhone last year, the two companies have mutual interest in working together. Having UWB in smartphones, Renesas believes, can lead to expanding the use of UWB to add secure access capability to connected smart homes, internet of things (IoT), industry 4.0, mobile computing, and connected vehicle applications. And 3db Access, with design wins already in production cars via key fob suppliers Hella and Marquardt, will look to further develop its technology and new multi-receiver UWB chips.
Renesas said it will augment its microcontrollers (MCUs) and RF connectivity capabilities with 3db Access’ field proven secure ranging UWB chips, designed for use in smartphones, smart watches, automobiles, and other IoT applications. The collaboration also gives Renesas customers access to advanced UWB solutions that are IEEE 802.15.4z dual HRP/LRP (high rate pulse / low rate pulse) compliant and utilize an RF architecture that achieves 10x lower power consumption through the support of LRP-mode. Speaking to EE Times, Boris Danev, CEO of 3db Access, told us its devices also provide the smallest UWB silicon area compared to competitive ICs, saying, “Our die in a 65nm process occupies just 3.8 sq. mm.”
We caught up with Amit Bavisi, vice president of engineering, IoT and infrastructure business unit at Renesas, on the phone to find out more about the rationale for the decision to work with 3db Access for UWB. He explained that while UWB was already part of the IDT portfolio a few years ago in low power motion sensors, the current form of the technology was a hole they needed to fill. “With UWB now being widely available in the smartphone, the dynamics have changed. It opens up the door to working with various technologies. We wanted to bring a technology that was mature and are looking at developing IEEE compliant specification solutions. Also, LRP has its benefits.”
He added that Renesas’ team in Zurich had been close to 3db Access for a couple of years. “Having seen their ability achieve what they have with such a small team is a great achievement. We are excited with the prospects of collaborating with 3db Access to provide our customers with the products and tools they need to quickly jumpstart their development for indoor positioning, mobile payments and asset tracking. We believe that our combined technical expertise, differentiated IP, and global operations will allow us to design the smallest and highest performance system solutions that provide secure distance ranging access to our customers’ next-generation products.”
Bavisi said that their initial focus would be on mobile devices and infrastructure, “The biggest initial application area will be in mobile devices for secure access and secure payments.”
Danev explained to EE Times that the Apple announcement last September created a lot of interest in UWB technology. “The big semiconductor companies started looking at their options to incorporate this.” He explained how Apple is utilizing HRP (high-rate pulse) UWB, while 3db Access’ IP in the Volkswagen Golf Mk 8 and ID.3 electric car key fobs based on its LRP (low-rate pulse) technology.
He added, “Our customers like LRP since it doesn’t need an expensive microcontroller but want HRP compatibility because that’s what Apple is promoting, and they want the compatibility with Apple to have access to the wider ecosystem.”
Danev said LRP provides provable security and low cost and die size. But as part of the collaboration with Renesas, he said they’ll be looking to develop a dual HRP/LRP chip, which they hope to have the first integration ready by the end of the year.
“One possibility is to transmit both HRP and LRP in the same device. They have the same channels and MAC layers, the main difference is the digital post-processing, the part after the ADC. But LRP only takes up 10% of the chip real estate. That’s because LRP has stronger pulses but fewer of them, while HRP has small amplitude pulses but many of them, which therefore requires a lot more digital processing.”
Comparison of LRP and HRP UWB technologies (Image: 3db Access)
Danev continued, “We are proud that this collaboration recognizes the 3db advances in UWB technology and will bring precise and secure location capabilities to the large ecosystem of battery-powered wireless devices. The combination of 3db Access’ UWB domain knowledge and positioning products fits perfectly with Renesas’ embedded system processing and global market expertise.” He said that Renesas would be looking to address the entire ecosystem of IoT devices, including trackers and wearables. “That’s why LRP is important — because of the low power consumption and small die size. Renesas will be looking to integrate our IP into their devices, potentially on the consumer side.”
Danev said that both companies are still discussing terms of business engagement that will enable 3db Access to develop new UWB solutions for a broader market, in addition to bringing existing UWB solutions to the Renesas portfolio. He added, “It is not an exclusive agreement and we are in parallel seeking investment to develop our next generation devices.” I asked both Danev and Bavisi whether the agreement with Renesas would include investment in 3db Access. Neither was able to confirm or rule it out, but simply told us that terms of the collaboration were still under discussion.
>> This article was originally published on our sister site, EE Times.