UWB continues to build momentum in the short-range wireless connectivity market, bringing next-generation enhancements and new use cases for the technology that will contribute to a significant increase of UWB-enabled device shipments over the next 5 years. This ABI Insight examines these new features and use cases, along with the challenges that may hinder expected growth.
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UWB Continues to Build Momentum as Innovations Boast Impressive New Capabilities
Ultra-Wideband (UWB), a fine-ranging technology that delivers high precision with low-power consumption, has gained traction in consumer and enterprise applications since 2019 due to its ability to enable unique use cases, alongside the growing availability of smaller, more affordable chipsets from numerous UWB chipset vendors. While the technology is still in its early phases of maturity with smartphone and wearable platforms driving adoption, UWB continues to build momentum in the Short-Range Wireless (SRW) connectivity market across various industries. Key members of the Fine Ranging (FiRa) Consortium and UWB Alliance are continuing to bring improved performance and new use cases that span secure ranging, high-accuracy positioning, radar and sensing, and data transfer applications:
- Secure Ranging: The IEEE is developing 802.15.4ab, known as UWB Next Generation, to better achieve an interconnected ecosystem with interoperable UWB chipsets through further enhancement of the UWB Physical (PHY) layers and Medium Access Control (MAC) sublayer. These enhancements, including added channels and operating frequencies, interference mitigation techniques, and sensing capabilities, will help enable UWB to support a greater range of use cases, such as those that require greater device density, low-power consumption, or high data rate streaming. This project aims to address new applications that demand added flexibility and scalability, expanding use cases to a wider range of applications across varying environments while maintaining backward compatibility.
- High Accuracy Positioning: imec recently launched IEEE 802.15.4z, a compliant Impulse Radio (IR) UWB transceiver that accomplishes 1.4 Millimeter (mm) ranging precision, while maintaining ultra-low power consumption and a cost-efficient silicon implementation. NXP, in collaboration with LaterationXYZ, also recently attained millimeter-level accuracy in UWB ranging. This high-ranging precision has the potential to bring new use cases for the automotive industry, as well as gaming, manufacturing, and logistics and warehousing Real-Time Location System (RTLS) applications.
- Radar and Sensing: Various vendors have taken interest in deploying UWB technology for commercial applications due to its radar and sensing abilities. Several innovations include NXP’s single-chip solution, which allows devices to both sense their environment and securely range other UWB-enabled devices; CEVA’s RivieraWaves UWB Radar, which senses object and breathing micro-movements; and NOVELDA’s UWB Radar Sensor, which delivers people positioning and tracking capabilities. These novel technologies enabling high motion sensitivity can pave the way for further innovation in the automotive, smart building, smart home, and audio markets to advance safety and convenience.
- Data Transfer: UWB technology has demonstrable potential as a high-throughput, low-latency networking technology. SPARK Microsystems UWB chipsets provide data rates of up to 10 Megabits per Second (Mbps) @ 1.5 nJ/bit energy, while imec’s UWB chip can provide data rates of 1.66 Gigabits per Second (Gbps) using less than 10 Megawatts (mW) of power. These chipsets delivering high speed and low latency can enable future enhancements in next-generation audio, Extended Reality (XR)/Augmented Reality (AR), gaming, and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors.
Next-Generation Use Cases Will Increase UWB's Presence across Multiple Industries
UWB’s latest innovations have the potential to impact four broad key areas as defined by the FiRa Consortium: smart cities and mobility; smart building and industrial; smart retail; and smart home and consumer. New UWB capabilities have already garnered interest for next-generation use cases for various applications, including automotive, smart building, smart home devices, and audio:
- Automotive: High-resolution motion sensing technology and high accuracy positioning can deliver significant safety improvements in the automotive industry. NXP’s UWB radar, CEVA’s RivieraWaves, and imec’s IR-UWB transceiver can use radar sensing for in-cabin presence detection to help protect against hot car tragedies through sending safety alerts when a child or pet is left in the backseat. Radar sensing can also be used for convenience in simple situations such as changing the TV channel with a gesture. In addition to sensing capabilities, innovations in high accuracy positioning can improve the effectiveness of automotive UWB applications through improved distance and angle measurements in the in-cabin environment, enhancing gesture recognition and intruder alarm features.
- Smart Building: Smart buildings have already seen benefits from radar technology power-saving applications. STEINEL’s True Presence Detector incorporates NOVELDA’s UWB sensors to help hotels manage Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) and lighting controls, resulting in a 12% cost reduction. Unlike other technologies, UWB has the advantage of detecting micro-movements, such as the presence of a breathing person even when motionless.
- Smart Home: Radar technology can also be used for presence detection in smart home devices. A smart baby monitor equipped with a UWB radar could use micro-movement detection to observe a sleeping baby’s breathing rate and send alerts if there are any changes. Power-saving presence detection could be used for smart electronics, such as laptops and TVs. NOVELDA’s UWB sensors have already been integrated into certain models of Lenovo laptops for power-saving and security purposes, such as touch-free verification and automatic locking, and is looking to expand its use to other products with a display. New features in NOVELDA’s UWB sensors have people tracking capabilities that are expected to be used for smart home entertainment solutions, such as smart speakers that direct high-quality sound to one’s location in the room.
- Audio: UWB’s high-throughput, low-latency data transfer capabilities create opportunities for enhanced audio experience. PSB Speakers, Sonical, and MQA established a partnership to create next-generation audio headphones using Qorvo’s UWB radio technology for high-resolution data transfer capabilities. The device will integrate AntennaWare’s BodyWave antenna, which uses UWB to address body blocking issues that could occur with wireless wearable devices. Innovation in the audio industry could place UWB in competition with premium audio Bluetooth technology devices, such as LE Audio and high-quality codecs.
As UWB next-generation features promise compatibility with a wider range of use cases that take advantage of improved ranging, motion sensing, and data transfer capabilities, more companies are compelled to invest in this technology, despite its lack of presence in current technological infrastructure as compared to competitors like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. ABI Research forecasts the global market for UWB-enabled device shipments will achieve a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 24% over the next 5 years, growing from 435 million units in 2023 to almost 1.3 billion units by 2028. Expected market share will continue to be dominated by portable consumer electronics, particularly smartphones, followed by wearables, such as Apple Watches. Thus, the rollout of UWB technology in smartphone devices plays a significant role in driving UWB’s ecosystem growth. In 2022, 21% of smartphone shipments included UWB technology, and ABI Research expects an increase to nearly 50% by 2028. Significant growth is also expected in IoT, smart home, automotive, and home entertainment applications across use cases that include secure car access, commercial and residential access control, UWB-enabled connected home devices, and precise tracking of personal items.
Despite Unique Advantages for UWB, Challenges Remain
Initially re-emerging to establish a sizable presence in smartphone devices for secure access applications, UWB technology has continued to make its mark in the SRW connectivity space with groundbreaking innovations in secure ranging, high-accuracy positioning, radar and sensing, and data transfer that promise future use cases across various applications, such as automotive, smart building, smart home devices, and audio. With next-generation applications on the horizon and a growing base in smartphones and wearables, ABI Research expects the number of worldwide UWB-enabled device shipments to triple over the next 5 years. Although the outlook on the future of UWB is certainly positive, some challenges remain:
- High Costs: Because this novel technology lacks a strong presence in the current infrastructure, UWB has a higher cost of implementation compared to competitors. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are cheaper and more convenient due to existing benefits from wide use and popularity.
- Competing Innovations: The evolving connectivity landscape could pose a threat to UWB (and other wireless technologies). Recent and upcoming enhancements in the ranging and sensing capabilities of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, such as Bluetooth Channel Sounding, could allow these technologies to encroach on UWB territory over time.
- Interoperability Concerns: Uncertainty regarding the successful implementation of next-generation UWB applications risks underperformance in the market. For example, if UWB chipsets from certain vendors are not interoperable with others, this may dampen the scalability of the market.
- Weakening Consumer Demand: Any lag in the smartphone, PC, and wearables markets could slow the installed base of UWB and reduce opportunities for UWB peripheral and accessory items.
The future of UWB remains interconnected to the greater SRW connectivity ecosystem due to a shifting landscape with rapid innovation. Although each technology has its key advantages, overlapping use cases create the risk of losing some market share capacity. However, unmatched fine-ranging capabilities in UWB technology create a niche application for use cases in which precision matters, such as automotive in-cabin presence detection, sensing for micro-movements in breathing, and IoT personal item tracking. Due to these unique advantages, there is evident incentive for companies to incorporate UWB technology into their products, despite higher costs from lack of existing infrastructure. UWB is, therefore, on track to expand its next-generation presence to reach new industries with a wider range of applications.