The formation of Aliro brings attention to an increasingly interoperable landscape for Ultra-Wideband (UWB) in access control. This ABI Insight investigates Aliro’s impact on UWB, UWB interoperability challenges, and the unique roles of Near Field Communication (NFC), Bluetooth® Low Energy (LE), and UWB in the access control industry, as well as how the CCC Digital Key seamlessly integrates these complementary technologies.
Registered users can unlock up to five pieces of premium content each month.
Log in or register to unlock this Insight.
The Connectivity Standards Alliance Announces Aliro
The Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), an organization that creates universal, open standards for Internet of Things (IoT) products to securely connect and interact, unveiled Aliro in November 2023. Aliro is a new standard that transforms how users unlock doors and other entry points using mobile devices or wearables. This communication protocol facilitates interoperability between mobile devices, wearables, and access control readers. By enabling a consistent experience across certified hardware, the goal is to foster widespread adoption of consumer electronic devices to unlock control readers. The Aliro protocol includes definitions for Near Field Communication (NFC), Bluetooth® Low-Energy (LE), and Ultra-Wideband (UWB). Aliro is backed by nearly 200 member companies, including UWB-equipped companies such as Apple, Infineon, NXP Semiconductors, Samsung, and STMicroelectronics. The Aliro standard is built on four key principles:
- Simplicity: A lower barrier to implementation is achieved through reducing the complexity for integration and decreasing the high cost of Research and Development (R&D).
- Flexibility: Supporting different types of installations and architectures offers access to both common and individual entry points.
- Security: Foundation to implement mobile access solutions is secure and trusted.
- Interoperability: Standardized communication protocol enables communication between manufacturer-independent devices.
Through establishing interoperable, simple, and secured solutions, Aliro is expected to speed adoption for keyless entry mobile devices and supported digital access card readers across various access control applications, such as homes, warehouses, corporate and university facilities, and more.
Aliro's Impact on UWB Interoperability for Access Control
Interoperability between UWB chips is a key potential obstacle to the growth of UWB. Proprietary implementations of the technology will make it difficult for UWB embedded within various device types to communicate effectively with those from other manufacturers, or between different use cases. The path toward interoperable, standardized solutions across different UWB applications will be needed for UWB-enabled devices to connect and communicate with one another, and a lack thereof could dampen the scalability of the UWB market. Currently, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth® have strong compatibility within their respective solutions, and there has been ongoing work for UWB to achieve the same.
Ever since the re-emergence of UWB in the consumer market in 2019, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has worked to address interoperability concerns. In 2020, the IEEE 802.15.4z standard enhanced the existing 802.15.4 standard to provide a secure distance measuring mechanism between devices. 802.15.4z allowed UWB to be more active in business and mass market solutions, increasing the presence of UWB chips in smartphones and other mobile devices. Currently, the IEEE is developing 802.15.4ab, UWB Next Generation, to enhance the Physical (PHY) layers and the Medium Access Control (MAC) sublayer, increasing the flexibility and scalability of the market, while maintaining backward compatibility. In addition to the IEEE, several other organizations such as the FiRa Consortium (FiRa), the UWB Alliance, and omlox have been dedicated to increasing interoperability in the UWB ecosystem.
The creation of Aliro will add to the work of the IEEE and other organizations regarding interoperability of UWB chips for access control. As access control is a key industry for UWB, a successful rollout of UWB-enabled mobile devices and readers can have a major impact on its growth. Aliro especially gives UWB a boost due to its lack of existing infrastructure compared to Bluetooth® LE which already has an expansive presence. Although competitors in some respects, UWB and Bluetooth® LE are also complementary, and Aliro will help develop strong solutions for the two technologies combined.
Future Opportunities, Challenges, and Evolution of Short-Range Wireless for Access Control
The news of Aliro highlights the potential for growth in the access control industry for NFC, Bluetooth® LE, and UWB. Each technology has its unique advantages and challenges:
- NFC: Because NFC requires close proximity to function, its ranging capabilities do not compare to that of UWB and Bluetooth® LE. However, its short range makes it inherently secure, and many mobile devices already come with NFC for payment applications. Most importantly, its negligible power consumption provides use for NFC as a backup technology for battery-drained mobile devices and fobs. Therefore, although the ranging capabilities of UWB and Bluetooth® LE significantly surpass those of NFC, the power-saving abilities, low costs, and security of NFC provide value for use in keyless entry devices.
- Bluetooth® LE: Bluetooth® LE has been deployed for keyless entry at a distance using its ranging capabilities. However, the technology has faced security challenges due to relay attacks from hackers, including high-profile cases of remotely unlocking Tesla vehicles. Looking ahead, Bluetooth® LE is working on closing the gap on UWB, but success is not guaranteed. Bluetooth® Channel Sounding (CS) technology could offer higher accuracy for more security against hackers, potentially rivaling UWB in keyless entry, while possessing a wide presence in infrastructure. If innovations are delayed, however, UWB is granted more time to implement itself more broadly in the infrastructure.
- UWB: UWB currently offers the highest security and accuracy for access control applications due to its precise distance measurements from Time-of-Flight (ToF) calculations. It is secure against hackers and consistently offers centimeter-level accuracy. However, this newly implemented technology faces significant challenges from its high costs, lack of existing infrastructure, and possible competition from Bluetooth® CS.
Despite the possibility of future competition, these technologies can readily be used to complement each other. In November 2023, the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) and FiRa partnered to announce the formation of the Joint UWB MAC PHY Working Group (JUMPWG) to incorporate UWB into the new CCC Digital Key, alongside Bluetooth® LE and NFC. The JUMPWG was created to ensure long-term interoperability and scalability as UWB standards continue to evolve. The CCC Digital Key demonstrates the complementary use of NFC, Bluetooth® LE, and UWB for access control for automotive vehicles:
- NFC: NFC technology is incorporated in the mobile device to open/close the vehicle, drive the vehicle, and manage pairing functions through a simple tap. When the mobile battery is drained, NFC can take over the access control functions of Bluetooth® LE and UWB.
- Bluetooth® LE: Bluetooth® LE is used as a remote command to open/close the vehicle. Because the technology consumes less power than UWB, it is used for prolonged low-power use.
- UWB: UWB can passively open/close a vehicle by detecting whether the user is approaching or walking away. Once the mobile device is within a defined distance, Bluetooth® LE switches over to UWB for secure, fine-ranging access verification. It can also detect the phone inside to drive the vehicle.
Each technology has its unique advantages that add value to the overall design mechanism. Given how the CCC Digital Key seamlessly integrates these three technologies and how Aliro helps drive interoperability of these technologies for access control, future use cases may capitalize on the complementary benefits of NFC, Bluetooth® LE, and UWB. While this is a strong starting point for access control applications, ABI Research believes that additional work will need to be done to ensure that UWB can maintain interoperability across numerous emerging targeted applications for the technology. Various organizations such as FiRa, the UWB Alliance, omlox, the CSA, the CCC, and now the Audio Engineering Society (AES) will all have a key role to play in fostering interoperability, building scale, and driving next-generation UWB use cases.