Wireless wonder: is your workplace ready for Ultra-Wide Band?

The data-shifting and location-tracking potential of Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) is set to open a whole new world of technological possibilities for the workplace. But are companies ready to take advantage?

The next frontier in wireless communications has arrived: Ultra-Wide Band (UWB). The question is, are people ready to use it to best effect or will it be a wasted opportunity?

UWB is an RF (Radio Frequency) communication protocol that uses a large portion of the electromagnetic spectrum to transmit large amounts of data in very low power pulses at short range.

Data is encoded in the timing of the pulses rather than by varying the amplitude, frequency and phase of the waveform. This grants UWB some benefits that other RF protocols do not have. Firstly, because the pulses of UWB are varied in time, they are less vulnerable to multi-path interference, whereby waves bouncing off multiple surfaces interfere with one another. This is a key vulnerability of RF systems like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Secondly, UWB uses a much higher proportion of the electromagnetic spectrum for signalling, so can support a much higher data rate than many other technologies. This gives it advantages in applications that can benefit from high data throughput, like high definition wireless video.

Precise location tracking

Most of the interest in UWB so far has been for extremely precise location tracking services. Apple has already included multiple UWB antennae in the iPhone 11, allowing it to precisely track its location and positioning in physical space. While Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can be used for this to an extent, they are typically unreliable as they depend on signal strength alone, which can be masked or inaccurate due to multipath propagation.

UWB has removed this issue by using extremely fast pulses and measuring their lag time to be able to track locations on the order of millimetres rather than metres. This can include things like which direction a device is facing, making it far easier for devices to communicate with each other by orientations and locations. For example, you may be able to display your phone screen on a screen simply by placing it in front of the screen facing down.

No additional power

It is not just phones that will benefit from UWB’s capacity for high-throughput short range communication. Because of very low power consumption, UWB transceivers can be appended to almost any kind of device without additional power requirements. This will enable precision location tracking in a whole class of devices that may not have supported this with current technologies.

Almost any device can have a small, low-powered chip that can accurately relate its position relative to any other device. This unlocks the potential of the Internet of Things as it will help devices communicate with one another which older methods would not have supported. This can include anything from automated maintenance robots to wearable interaction-measuring devices.

‘This unlocks the potential of the Internet of Things as it will help devices communicate with one another…’

UWB is going to open a whole world of opportunities for the workplace. Any devices that need to know where other devices are reliably and accurately will benefit from the coming leap to UWB. This is not simply going to be a case of improving on what we already do, but a technological advance that will actually let us do things we currently cannot.

Applications like swarms of small robots that work together would not be possible without UWB providing a method for precision localisation. Workplaces need to be cognisant of the changes that UWB will bring so that they can best capitalise on the advances that this technology will bring.

Arraz Makhzani is a workplace analyst at UnWork
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