Embedded World 2023 Highlighted the Direction of Travel for Location Technology Innovation

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2Q 2023 | IN-6891

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Ultra-Wideband (UWB) had a large presence at Embedded World, including new positioning techniques, such as Angle of Arrival (AoA) and High-Accuracy Distance Measurement (HADM), and new end markets.

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Precise Indoor Positioning Was Easy to Locate at Embedded World


Indoor positioning and ranging had a large presence at Embedded World 2023, led by advancements in Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Ultra-Wideband (UWB) technology. In particular, Bluetooth Angle of Arrival (AoA) solutions cemented their place at the forefront of BLE’s location innovation, while there was also a hint of what is to come with multiple vendors demonstrating Bluetooth’s High Accuracy Distance Measurement (HADM) capabilities for a number of use cases. UWB also featured heavily, with a focus on Real-Time Location System (RTLS) solutions and the growing supplier and vendor ecosystems, alongside other applications for UWB, such as secure ranging in automotive or consumer access and personal tracking applications.

Next-Generation BLE and UWB for RTLS and Other Location Services


The Bluetooth 5.1 standard, released in 2019, brought Bluetooth AoA as one its marquee features. The promise of standardization of a solution previously only available from a select few vendors, such as Quuppa, created room to grow for the location ecosystem and for a wide range of interoperable AoA solutions to emerge. Compared to older Received Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) BLE positioning, AoA promises a much higher accuracy (normally within 50 Centimeters (cm) compared to 1 Meter (m) to 3 m for RSSI), while maintaining many of the key advantages BLE has as positioning technology, such as low-power consumption and chipset costs. Since 2019, standardized BLE AoA solutions have begun to emerge with vendors like u-blox, and CoreHW demonstrating their solutions at Embedded World, alongside partners, such as Nordic and Onsemi, respectively. e-peas also leveraged a Quuppa AoA asset tracking solution, alongside its energy harvesting technology and in the vein of energy innovation, low-power System-on-Chip (SoC) vendor Atmosic announced its partnership with MicroZerr for low-power BLE RTLS tags with AoA support.

Many of the Bluetooth location demos at Embedded World went beyond AoA, with Nordic, Silicon Labs, and Metirionic combining AoA with some form of High Accuracy Distance Measurement (HADM) leveraging techniques like channel sounding or phase shift measurements. While HADM hasn’t made it to the Bluetooth specification yet, upcoming chipset and software support is aiming to capitalize early and pre-empt standardized offerings.

The potential of UWB for high-precision ranging and positioning was a key driver for many of the UWB vendors at Embedded World. With historically limited competition in the UWB chipset and module space, Qorvo was able to show off its wide partner portfolio of RTLS Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and solutions providers; however, the space is opening up as NXP’s UWB solutions were also on show and able to perform similarly. Outside of pure RTLS, Qorvo also demonstrated UWB for indoor positioning for smartphones and UWB anchors in partnership with Pinpoint and Accuras, joining a growing trend of leveraging UWB in consumer devices for secure communications and precise distance measurement. Infineon demonstrated a UWB/BLE localization solution for touchless access in smart homes, while ST Microelectronics demonstrated UWB and BLE for automotive keyless entry applications. Murata had UWB positioning in place for multiple applications. For RTLS, Murata’s Type 2AB modules combined precise positioning using UWB from Qorvo and improved power management and communications using BLE from Nordic to maximize battery life for RTLS tracking applications. Murata also leveraged NXP’s FiRa-compatible UWB chipsets, targeting smartphone-based training consumer applications, such as proximity-based wake-up. Following Embedded World on March 22, Samsung also announced that it would be producing its own UWB chips.

BLE and UWB Leading the Next Wave of Innovation


Combining AoA and HADM will allow vendors to supply RTLS and indoor positioning solutions with more capable, but more sparse infrastructure. A single AoA+HADM anchor can bring positioning to a similar level of accuracy as multiple AoA-only anchors performing trilateration, which could be a major advancement given the prohibitive cost of installing and maintaining infrastructure as a major barrier to RTLS adoption. The technology is still yet to be widely available, however, so we will have to see how the technology performs both in terms of cost effectiveness and real-world efficiency like in RTLS applications in key verticals where BLE will take hold, such as logistics or healthcare tracking. With the somewhat slow pace of AoA development and support for HADM coming to the Bluetooth standard within the next few years, we should expect AoA+HADM solutions to not be available in the short term, instead taking a couple more years to arrive.

Outside of any specific positioning techniques or technologies is a renewed interest in indoor positioning and RTLS, with a shift toward BLE and UWB over other solutions, but also a heavy emphasis on technology partnerships like Nordic Semiconductor and u-blox, Onsemi and CoreHW, and Atmosic and MicroZerr, as well and Qorvo and a plethora of RTLS vendors, such as Pozyx, Woxu Wireless, Wipelot, and ZIGPOS. As increased interoperability, reduced deployment costs, and better understanding of the technology involved have worn away many of the historical barriers to RTLS adoption, BLE and UWB stand out as the key technologies that will drive volume. BLE supports low-cost, scalable solutions and UWB for high-accuracy scenarios and better signal security with many of the key chipset vendors already taking note.

As these enhancements to BLE begin to encroach on the niche that UWB solutions have been able to carve out in critical end markets in manufacturing and logistics, the increasing popularity of hybrid solutions, alongside technology-agnostic software options in these areas, suggests that the two technologies are set to expand the overall available market and are better deployed together than directly competing. The capabilities of single RTLS technologies are often incapable of addressing all requirements of enterprises. Hybrid solutions leveraging multiple technologies are gaining momentum and will continue to as they can better address multiple use cases, reduce costs, and improve scalability. RTLS vendors are already leveraging this: Ubisense is deploying UWB+BLE in industrial and manufacturing for increased reliability over two technologies and Ubudu is targeting manufacturing, healthcare, and retail by leveraging hybrid technology for increased infrastructure flexibility. Murata demonstrated this at Embedded World by leveraging the higher accuracy of UWB and lower-power consumption of BLE in one asset tracking solution. ABI Research estimates that 527,000 BLE+UWB RTLS tags shipped in 2022, increasing to more than 10 million by 2030.




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