When you think of wireless technology, those who come to mind first have taken many years to become known – Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and 4G – while others have faded into the ether of technical jargon. It’s fair to be skeptical when a new technology comes along with claims that it’s going to be huge, so when Samsung announced this morning that a long-standing technology called Ultra-Wideband (UWB) is “the next big thing in wireless technology, “I can usually draw on it as a typical industrial hype.
But despite previous commercialization challenges, there is reason to believe that Ultra-Wideband technology will really be a big deal. Using radio waves, the wireless technology promises to enable any object with a UWB chip to be within 4-1
It is unclear at this point whether companies will use UWB to track local information about goods in a warehouse, or instead rely on it to enable virtual and remote work – imagine wearing a VR headset and being able to to find exactly your physical keyboard and trackpad even though you did not actually see them. Several business and personal applications of the technology are possible, and it seems that we are beginning to see some of the early ones finally emerge from laboratories for public display. Here’s what’s coming.
UWB technology and 5G confusion
Without getting too much into the weeds, Ultra-Wideband refers to the use of very large blocks of radio spectrum to transmit and receive data at short range. Imagine a small radio tower that can simultaneously blast data at each station on the wheel at the same time, but limited in power, so that it does not interfere with radios outside the current room, and uses special frequencies that will not interfere with traditional radio communication. The strength and directions of the varied wide radio signals can be used to determine the relative location of the small tower, as well as to convey large amounts of information quickly.
If you’re in the US, you may have heard of UWB in another context: Verizon decided to use the same term to market the millimeter wave 5G mobile network, making the acronym “5G UWB” appear on the screen of supporting devices. . Although there are some similarities in the underlying concepts, Verizon’s 5G UWB is not related to location services – it only refers to the specific short-range technology used for its highest speed 5G connection.
US rival AT&T instead uses the term “5G +” to distinguish between millimeter-wave connections, and globally no other operator confuses customers in this way. As Ultra-Wideband service technology becomes more common, Verizon’s use of the term for mobile purposes will hopefully disappear, otherwise it will remain confusing for its customers.
Who is on board and why
Samsung noted today that it has been working since 2018 to bring Ultra-Wideband technology into its products, and has already released two UWB-compatible devices, the Galaxy Note20 Ultra in August and the Galaxy Z Fold2 in September. Currently, the company notes that UWB enables two features: Nearby Sharing, which allows users to transfer files to friends and family in the same room, and SmartThings Find, which allows users of the two devices to see the exact locations of UWB-equipped objects. within “an augmented reality visual display.”
It is worth emphasizing that Samsung did not take the UWB to any phone in the Galaxy S20 series or to the entire series of the Note20 family. These are the first Android phones with UWB, but to see the feature even on that platform, you have to spend $ 1300 for Galaxy Note20 Ultra or $ 2000 for Galaxy Z Fold2. This is probably the reason why the company did not make a major agreement with UWB during the unveiling.
The timing of Samsung’s press release was not coincidental. Tomorrow, Apple will hold an iPhone event where another “next big thing in wireless” – 5G mobile technology – will be the dominant story, but rumors suggest that UWB news may also be on the agenda. If Apple holds a real upcoming party for the technology, Samsung would probably be sure that no one forgot that it also supports UWB.
Even though you may not have noticed it last year, Apple added a UWB chip called “U1” to every iPhone 11 model in September 2019, which means that there are already tens of millions of support devices on the market, with prices that starting from $ 700. The same chip was quietly added to the $ 400 + Apple Watch Series 6 and is expected to be inside all of this year’s iPhone 12 devices as well.
Last year, Apple only said that UWB would be used to improve the precision and speed of AirDrop, its version of the Nearby Part, but openly hinted at much bigger things to come in the future. The iOS 13 code revealed that the company also worked with standalone U1 location trackers called Apple Tags or AirTags, and the plan was apparently to add location services nearby for the trackers in the Find My app. It has not happened yet, but when you consider all the details, it is clear that Apple worked with exactly the same features as Samsung, but under different names, and with a much larger initial scale due to Apple’s larger collection of supported devices.
What to expect
Unlike Apple, which has not yet shown full UWB hand, Samsung offered a short list of future applications for the technology, including:
- A Digital Key solution that lets your phone unlock doors as you approach them, including the front door of a building
- Navigate accurately over large areas, such as finding a car in a parking garage or finding a place to eat at the airport
- Make secure external payments
- Finds missing remote controls
Samsung has also said it plans to bring UWB “to everyone, not just a select few” thanks to open collaboration with more than 45 organizations spanning multiple industries, from automakers and universities to corporate and consumer technology companies. The promise of interoperability is a clear shot at Apple, which so far has only promised to use UWB to help devices understand their “precise position relative to other U1-equipped Apple devices nearby.”
Apple is probably heading in similar directions. Rumor has it that the next Apple TV remote control will include a U1 so you can find it on a sofa, and the company has confirmed that they are collaborating on an industry-wide standard for digital car unlocking that uses the U1 instead of NFC.
Another exciting potential is that UWB becomes an activator for mixed reality, and helps units to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds. Thanks to UWB, users can finally realize the promise of high-precision indoor mapping based on Lidar and / or Wi-Fi, so you can soon explore a “digital twin” in a real room, and preview live locations. of real objects in an office, shop or home, and find them quickly when you arrive. Combined with 3- or 6-DoF orientation trackers, UWB can enable headphones to deliver high-precision spatial sound, allowing a user to simply move and turn in a room to experience a concert, movie or game differently from left, center, right, front and back in a space. Performance like this is possible without UWB, but many companies have been waiting for precise spatial location and directional data to make them better.
A key question – and potentially a major limitation on how widespread the technology will be – is how much UWB accessories will cost. Although some expected Apple to drop codes for less than $ 30, the component cost alone could be $ 10, and some rumors have suggested that Apple planned a price point of $ 50 for each sensor. It’s significantly higher than the $ 20- $ 30 Tile cost for trackers, and probably high enough to reduce the demand for UWB codes, even though millions of tracking devices are out there. Samsung has a bigger challenge, as UWB hardware is not currently available in any of the cheaper phones, and there has been no hint of Samsung tags yet. Previous history suggests that where Apple goes, Samsung follows, and vice versa.
So whichever platform you prefer, there should be some extremely interesting applications of UWB technology. We have to see if it actually turns out to be “the next big thing in wireless technology”, but the power to do so rests in the hands of Apple, Samsung and relatively few other companies with liberation. a comprehensive package of hardware, software and services to support UWB’s unique capabilities.
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