One of the lesser known features of the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is ultra-wideband (UWB) technology. The handset joins Apple’s iPhone 11 series as the first batch of smartphones to sport the wireless communication standard.
UWB is a new technology for the mobile market, positioning it with well-established wireless standards such as NFC and Bluetooth low energy. UWB promises similar capabilities but has its own unique set of pros and cons compared to current standards. This feature is set to be much more widely supported in the coming years, so let’s move on. Here you need to know about ultra-wideband technology.
What is UWB and how does it work?
UWB is quite similar to how other wireless data transfers work. It is a pulse pattern radio-based technology that sends data across time domains, with spectrum up to 3.1 and 10.6 GHz. Conventional wireless transmission changes the power, frequency, and / or phase of a sinew to encode data rather than simple sins.
The pulse method takes too much spectrum to work reliably, hence the ultra-wideband nomenclature. A single band is typically 500MHz wider than the 5 to 20MHz 4G LTE band for WiFi, or 20MHz to 80MHz. Due to the broad spectrum, pulsed data can be sent very quickly without losing accuracy. UWB can hit data rates from 4Mbps to 675Mbps or more depending on frequency. This is much faster than the NFC’s 424Kbps and Bluetooth’s standard 2.1Mbps speeds, but not as fast as the 2Gbps speeds achieved with WiFi-6.
Typically, wireless technologies are limited to very narrow bands to avoid interference with each other. UWB avoids this problem by operating at very low power levels, which are basically within the noise floor of other wireless applications. In other words, the spectrum is so wide that it is easy to detect but at low power it does not interfere with other signals.
Another advantage of this pulse-based transfer is that it is possible to calculate flight information from the data obtained. If you know the time and speed of data transfer, then completing the distance between the transmitter and receiver is simple math. Although obtaining more accurate 2D or 3D location data is considerably more involved. The measurement accuracy of a UWB is 10 cm or less, at a meter accuracy you can achieve with Bluetooth or WiFi (Bluetooth 5.1 can be as accurate as UWB in some instances). This is a boon for security applications.
UWB vs NFC and Bluetooth
If those ultra-wideband cases are used to sound familiar, it’s because many of these features can be done with pre-existing NFC and Bluetooth technologies. Which begs the question, why bother with another wireless standard?
Bluetooth operates in the 2.4GHz band, giving it a decent range for indoor use. However, it is in the same spectrum as some WiFi signals, so it is susceptible to interference. The broad spectrum options of UWB make it much less prone to interference, hence its initial component in industrial applications. However, its range is not as long as Bluetooth. NFC operates at 13.56 MHz, but has a very low threshold of just 4 cm.
One advantage for older technology is that both NFC and Bluetooth are inexpensive to implement, especially for low power beacons or passive powered NFC tags. UWB is not cost effective and requires power. As a result, NFC is not going anywhere for contactless payments anytime soon. Bluetooth’s wide support, audio functionality and long range range mean that it can do something that UWB cannot do. For current use cases, these two options are likely to remain popular.
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UWB comes into its own when high-speed data transfers, fast location with high accuracy, and / or low risk of interference are required. This makes technology the best choice for situations that require additional security, such as wireless vehicle access. Ultra-wideband has its own pros and cons, so it is definitely not a direct replacement of any wireless technology already on the market.
Smartphones that support ultra-wideband
Ultra-wideband technology has been around for a while, but it is very new in smartphones. It is currently reserved for some of the most expensive handsets in the market. You can find the shortlist of compatible handsets below.
- Apple iPhone 11
- Apple iPhone 11 Pro
- Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max
- Samsung galaxy note 20 ultra
UWB is only as good as the devices that support it. It will be many more years ago when it is like ubiquitous technology with wide-support. We expect smartphones from other manufacturers to incorporate support in upcoming major generations, but mid-tier and more affordable options are still a few years away.