The Car Connectivity Consortium's Upcoming Digital Key Certification Program Set to Boost UWB Chipset Shipments for Automotive Use Cases

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By David Ball | 2Q 2024 | IN-7371

The Car Connectivity Consortium’s (CCC) Digital Key certification program will soon include Ultra-Wideband (UWB). Automakers, device Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), and silicon providers should preempt its arrival and leverage the opportunities to expand the use of UWB for automotive applications that will follow.

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The Car Connectivity Consortium Will Establish UWB as a Mainstay for Keyless Entry Solutions


In December 2023, the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) launched the certification program for its Digital Key specification, for Near Field Communication (NFC) implementation. The certification program will institute a universal development process for NFC in keyless entry solutions, providing Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and chipset vendors with a common vehicle-to-device interface to offer interoperable, secure, and user-centered digital keys and silicon solutions for vehicles and mobile devices. With the CCC Digital Key, users will be able to access their vehicle by being in its vicinity, share car keys with others, and start the vehicle, with enhanced security through Time of Flight (ToF) authentication and encryption technology. Although the CCC’s Digital Key specification has been around since 2018, the CCC’s 2021 Digital Key 3 release introduced Ultra-Wideband (UWB) and Bluetooth® for hands-free access and secure ranging, alongside NFC for low battery entry and backward compatibility. Based on the IEEE 802.15.4a and 802.15.4a standards, UWB—a short-range wireless protocol—enables low-power centimeter accuracy ranging through ToF measurement (measuring the distance between two radio transceivers). The CCC’s inclusion of UWB is precursory to the Connectivity Standards Agency’s (CSA) Aliro keyless access standard for smart homes and cities, which features UWB (alongside NFC and Bluetooth® Low Energy (LE)) for smart locks and digital keys. While the CCC’s Digital Key certification program is currently limited to NFC-integrated products, CCC members met in April 2024 to discuss the incorporation of UWB and Bluetooth® in the next certification program. It is important for automakers, device OEMs, and silicon providers to preempt the impact that the CCC’s UWB Digital Key certification program will have on the uptake of UWB for keyless entry applications.

Support for UWB in Keyless Entry Solutions Will Only Grow


The membership of the CCC is a “veritable who’s who of auto manufacturers and big tech,” including the likes of Apple, BMW, Ford, GM, Google, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes, NXP Semiconductors, Panasonic, Samsung, Huawei, Kia, MediaTek, Microchip Technology, MinebeaMitsumi, Motorola, Nissan, Qorvo, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments, and Toyota, among others. It is this broad membership base that will propel the deployment of UWB in keyless entry solutions in alignment with the CCC’s digital key specification. The BMW iX is the first automobile to incorporate the CCC’s Digital Key 3 specification and a number of car manufacturers including Kia, Mercedes-Benz, and Hyundai, have already incorporated UWB into their vehicles. The transition to keyless entry solutions will be further streamlined by the existing presence of UWB in mobile devices, including iPhone 11 models and later, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, the Google Pixel Fold, and the Google Pixel 6/7/8 Pro, among others. Chipset vendors are already prepared for the arrival of UWB for keyless entry solutions and these offerings will only grow as the market for the product matures. NXP Semiconductors’ Trimension™ NCJ29D5 and NCJ29D6 chipsets offer UWB solutions tailored to keyless entry applications. Within NXP Semiconductors’ portfolio, these products are complemented by Bluetooth® and NFC chipsets for automotive solutions, while Texas Instruments and STMicroelectronics offer similarly supportive NFC and Bluetooth® chipsets for keyless entry use cases. Qorvo also offers a UWB solution for keyless entry solutions through its DW3300Q chipset, which is featured in Quectel’s CCC-compliant AU30Q module. Significantly, the module is also aligned with the China-based Intelligent Car Connectivity Industry Ecosystem (ICCE) Alliance specifications, illustrating the interest in UWB for keyless entry solutions in China.

ABI Research’s projected growth of UWB-enabled device shipments for automotive key fobs and accessories stands at a 30% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) between 2023 and 2028, increasing from 8.5 million to 31.2 million across the period. During this same time frame, attach rates for UWB in key fobs and accessories are also expected to increase from 12% to 32%. Meanwhile, Bluetooth®-enabled device shipments for automotive key fobs and accessories are expected to expand from 24.8 million in 2023 to 50.9 million by 2028, with attach rates set to reach 52% by the end of the period. Spurring the Bluetooth® market for key fobs will be Bluetooth® channel sounding, due to arrive in future Bluetooth® updates, which will offer reduced power consumption for keyless entry solutions. Bluetooth® and UWB will continue to feature alongside one another: Bluetooth® will be used for handshaking at a distance, and UWB will be employed for fine ranging and to tell the car to unlock its doors when the owner is in close proximity. With the inclusion of UWB in the CCC’s Digital Key specification and UWB certification on the horizon, it is increasingly likely that UWB keyless entry solutions will feature alongside Bluetooth®. Manufacturers are also likely to leverage UWB for additional functions, such as occupancy sensing, further increasing the deployment of UWB, particularly in mid- to high-range automobiles.

The Burgeoning Importance of UWB in Digital Keys Offers Opportunity beyond Automotive Access


The CCC’s UWB Digital Key certification program is on its way. Relevant automakers, device OEMs, and chipset vendors should prepare for its arrival and contribute to its rollout where possible. Silicon providers may expand their UWB portfolios to include solutions tailored to keyless entry applications, while automakers and device OEMs should pursue partnerships to ensure they can benefit quickly from the certification program. Alongside this, there are additional ways in which players can benefit from—and promote—the burgeoning importance of UWB in automotive applications:

  • Leverage the Momentum of UWB Keyless Entry Solutions in China: Despite the CCC’s focus on North America and Europe, there are around 50 CCC members based in China. In 2022, the Beijing-based company Xiaomi joined the CCC Board, hinting further at the growing importance of UWB for keyless entry solutions in China. In August 2023, automakers and device OEMs met in Shanghai to discuss the development of the CCC Digital Key specification. Beyond consortia-centered efforts, INGEEK, which used UWB in its digital key solution and introduced the design to China in 2017, has brokered partnerships with over 50 automakers, in China and abroad. Industry bodies such as the CCC, device OEMs, and silicon providers should continue to develop the existing UWB keyless entry ecosystem in China through partnerships.
  • Build the Promotion of Wider Automotive UWB Functionality into Keyless Entry Solutions: Whether through keyless entry or occupancy detection, UWB can be used to increase the value proposition of automotives. The initial integration of UWB for keyless entry will reduce the incremental cost of implementing UWB for further functionality. NOVELDA, a provider of occupancy sensing solutions, announced the introduction of seat occupancy detection to its X7 UWB In-Cabin Sensor in April 2024. Meanwhile, automotive UWB solutions from chipset vendors can often be used for multiple functions, meaning additional revenue can be sourced from a single product. NXP Semiconductors’ aforementioned NCJ29D6 UWB chipset is applicable not only to keyless entry solutions, but to Child Presence Detection (CPD) and kick-sensing for trunk access.
  • Invest in Ecosystem Partnerships: The barrier to UWB deployment will be further reduced by brokering partnerships between chipset manufacturers, device OEMs, and carmakers for UWB solutions. This will be assisted by the development of the automotive UWB ecosystem. The growing momentum of using UWB for keyless entry solutions should also be employed to leverage the use of UWB in additional automotive use cases to harness economies of scale, particularly given the reduced incremental cost of UWB after the first implementation and the multifunctionality of automotive UWB chipset solutions.