Infineon’s Acquisition of 3db Access Highlights Growing Importance of UWB Technology

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4Q 2023 | IN-7130

This ABI Insight examines the evolving Ultra-Wideband (UWB) ecosystem, including new entrants and acquisitions, as well as competing technologies that could threaten expected growth in the UWB market.

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Infineon Acquires UWB Chipset Vendor 3db Access to Accelerate IoT Roadmap


Ultra-Wideband (UWB) has emerged in the consumer and Internet of Things (IoT) markets in recent years as a short-range, wireless communication protocol known for its secure ranging and high-precision location capabilities. As this technology continues to advance with next-generation enhancements and use cases that span ranging, sensing, and networking capabilities, there is a dynamic and evolving landscape of new players, acquisitions, and rapid innovation.

In early October 2023, Infineon Technologies AG, Germany's largest semiconductor manufacturer, announced its acquisition of 3db Access AG, a pioneer in secured, low-power UWB technology. This global semiconductor leader has added UWB to its connectivity range portfolio—alongside Wi-Fi, Bluetooth®, Bluetooth® Low Energy (LE), 802.15.4, and Near Field Communication (NFC) solutions—to accelerate Infineon’s Internet of Things (IoT) roadmap. The first IoT use cases identified by Infineon include secured smart access, location tracking and indoor navigation, and radar presence detection in the automotive, industrial, and consumer industries.

New Players Seize Emerging Opportunities in the Market


Starting with Apple launching its own UWB U1 chip in 2019, several leading semiconductor companies have decided to add UWB to their portfolios. Most of these are based on the 802.15.4z standard and have primarily targeted fine-ranging applications. Shortly following Apple’s launch, NXP launched its own UWB chip for mobile devices and pioneered UWB chips for the automotive industry. Earlier in 2023, Samsung Electronics launched its first UWB chipset, the Exynos Connect U100, for use across mobile, automotive, and IoT devices.

A series of past acquisitions have also helped UWB expand to new markets and customers. Some notable acquisitions from 2020 that have impacted the market include Qorvo’s acquisition of market leader Decawave, Inpixon’s acquisition of Nanotron, and STMicroelectronics’ acquisition of BeSpoon. More recently in 2023, Paragon ID’s acquisition of UWINLOC assets, following its 2022 acquisition of Tracktio, and Infineon’s acquisition of 3db Access demonstrate that UWB is still garnering interest from large wireless connectivity chip vendors looking to add the technology to their portfolios.

Large-scale chipset vendors are not the only entities realizing an opportunity in the UWB playing field. As several chipset vendors have chosen to stop production in recent years, smaller vendors and startups have decided to take advantage of this gap in the market. UWB has especially piqued the interest of Chinese chipset vendors and startups, which include Mauna Kea Semiconductors (MKsemi), Shenzhen Giant Microelectronics (GiantSemi), Tsingoal, Chipsbank, Ultraception, and Osemitech, among others. These companies largely provide precise ranging and location services across various markets, including smartphones, wearables, IoT, and automotive industries.

On the UWB technology innovation front, German startup LaterationXYZ has made significant progress in 2023 by achieving millimeter-level accuracy via a partnership with NXP. Combined, what these acquisitions, new product releases, and new entrants demonstrate is an enormous potential market opportunity for UWB technology in all its different variants. This includes fine-ranging, radar and sensing, and increasingly low-latency connectivity.

Could Competition Hinder UWB Market Growth?


As UWB continues to gain traction and new players enter the market, the future of the technology seems promising. Still, innovations in the evolving short-range wireless connectivity landscape, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth®, could pose a challenge. While Wi-Fi and UWB applications have rarely overlapped, to date, with UWB preferred for low latency, low-power consumption, and high-accuracy positioning, and Wi-Fi preferred for high data rate communication, there may be some competition in radar and sensing applications. UWB has the advantages of superior tracking abilities and better energy efficiency, while Wi-Fi sensing technology has lower costs and easier implementation. Innovations such as imec’s latest UWB chip design could also compete with some Wi-Fi data transfer applications, such as Virtual Reality (VR) and video streaming. This high-throughput, low-latency chip can provide data rates of 1.66 Gigabits per Second (Gbps) using less than 10 Megawatts (mW) of power.

In contrast to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth® shares more overlapping use cases with UWB that could potentially hinder expected growth in the UWB market:

  • Access Control: When it comes to access control applications, UWB has advantages in secure ranging and precise positioning. The technology protects against hackers due to its location tracking abilities. Bluetooth®, on the other hand, has faced some security challenges due to relay attacks, and there have been high-profile cases of hackers remotely unlocking Tesla vehicles. However, new Bluetooth® Channel Sounding (CS) technology will enable higher accuracy for distance measurements, making the technology much more secure. With improved security, widely existing infrastructure, and lower costs, Bluetooth® CS may be preferred over UWB for secure access applications, such as keyless car entry, at least for some regions.
  • Asset Tracking: UWB’s advantage in IoT asset tracking is its precise positioning. With the ability to consistently achieve centimeter-level accuracy, UWB enables more precise tracking of items compared to Bluetooth®, but with greater installation costs. However, the higher accuracy measurements of Bluetooth® CS may bring additional precision for asset tracking purposes, thus potentially making Bluetooth® CS even more compelling. Meanwhile, Bluetooth® direction finding-based solutions can also provide significant accuracy at lower cost. ABI Research expects to see increasing collaboration and hybrid deployments of both technologies depending on the specific deployment environments and devices being tracked. Solution providers such as Ubisense have already deployed such solutions.
  • Audio: Although Bluetooth® is widely used for audio purposes, UWB may have some unique advantages within premium audio applications due to its higher throughput capabilities. In early October 2023, Sonus Faber released its high-quality Duetto wireless speaker system, which incorporates SPARK Microsystems’ UWB technology. Additionally, Qorvo’s UWB radio technology will be used to create next-generation audio headphones. UWB could therefore capture some opportunities within some premium audio applications; however, high-quality and lossless Bluetooth® codecs, its ubiquitous presence in smartphones, and LE audio may be able to deliver a similar quality experience. Meanwhile, work is also ongoing to increase the throughput of Bluetooth® to better support lossless audio. Interestingly, Qualcomm’s latest S7 Pro Gen 1 sound platform, revealed in October 2023, will combine Bluetooth® and “micro-power” Wi-Fi to expand the range and quality of audio on devices, opening up even more competition in the high-quality audio space.

Due to existing advantages of wide popularity and low cost, Bluetooth® CS and LE audio are technologies that could threaten UWB growth. As innovations advance for both Bluetooth® and UWB, it is uncertain which technology will prevail for overlapping applications. Still, these technologies have distinct use cases that do not interfere with each other. Although Bluetooth® could potentially encroach on UWB market share, UWB’s unique fine-ranging capabilities make the technology stand out for applications that demand high precision. Considering UWB is in its early stages of adoption, with next-generation use cases on the horizon, the chipset ecosystem will continue to differentiate on data, power, ranging, and sensing capabilities. These advancements could add to existing advantages and enable completely new use cases for UWB technology to carve its own role in the connectivity ecosystem.

The technology is also receiving strong backing from many leading vendors in the automotive and access control space. Although competing in some applications, Bluetooth® and UWB are likely to work together in many markets. For example, most personal tracker tags integrate both technologies. Similarly, UWB key fobs within the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) Digital Key 3.0 specification leverage UWB, Bluetooth®, and NFC for the most accurate, low-power, secure, and always operational solution. Thus, despite competing innovations, UWB continues to garner interest across the market from large semiconductor vendors to smaller startups.