HomeGeneralWhat is Ultra-Wideband and How does it Work?

What is Ultra-Wideband and How does it Work?

Ultra-wideband (UWB) technology has been around for over 100 years. UWB was first used by the Italian innovator Guglielmo Marconi in 1901 to transmit music from a radio station to ships at sea. UWB is an innovative way of wireless data transmission that can be used for various applications such as voice, video, and data transfer. UWB is a very high frequency which means it does not have a long-range but its ability to send large amounts of information quickly makes it great for short distances where latency is not important.

What’s the history of ultra-wideband technology?

Ultra-wideband technology, UWB for short, was first used by the Italian innovator Guglielmo Marconi in 1901. It was used as a way to transmit radio signals over long distances. The technology is still used today for the same purpose. UWB is also used as a way to wirelessly transmit information such as images and sound. UWB works very differently than traditional radio wave technology because it uses ultra-short pulses of energy rather than continuous waves.

Electrical engineer and inventor Guglielmo Marconi with the first long distance radiotelegraphy transmissions during the 1890s
Electrical engineer/inventor Guglielmo Marconi with the spark-gap transmitter (right) and coherer receiver (left) he used in some of his first long-distance radiotelegraphy transmissions during the 1890s. (Image: Alex Microbe / Wikimedia)

Back then the primary purpose of ultra-wideband was to carry telegraph signals over great distances. This is how early telecommunication leveraged the morse code to send information in the form of short and long bursts of electrical current.

Ultra-wideband technology has come a long way since then, but it still retains some of its original characteristics. UWB is used today for a variety of applications such as wireless local area networking, collision avoidance systems in automobiles, and even medical imaging.

What is ultra-wideband?

Ultra-wideband (UWB) is a technology that allows for the transmission of high-bandwidth data over a very wide range of frequencies. UWB signals can propagate over very large distances and are not affected by interference from other electronic devices. UWB, often called impulse radio UWB (IR-UWB), is a technology that uses short pulses to transmit data through free space.

A Piper Networks radio device installed above the Manhattan and Queens-bound express track of the Church Avenue IND Culver Line station
A Piper Networks radio device was installed above the Manhattan and Queens-bound express track of the Church Avenue IND Culver Line station, under McDonald Avenue between Albermarle Road and Church Avenue in Kensington, Brooklyn. These devices are used for communications-based train control (CBTC), where trains relay their positions over radio. The express track also serves as a CBTC test track. (Image: Tdorante10 / Wikimedia)

Ultra-wideband can be either passive or active, depending on the situation. UWB contains no major disadvantages but does have some restrictions in distance and frequency. In order to understand how UWB works you need to know what it is made of and what makes UWB so unique from all the other types of technologies out there today.

How does UWB work?

Ultra-wideband technology operates in the range of 3GHz to 30GHz, which is significantly higher than the frequency bands used for most other types of wireless communication. This allows UWB signals to carry more data, making it an ideal solution for transmitting large files such as videos or images. UWB signals can also travel through obstacles such as walls and furniture, making it a good choice for indoor use. UWB also has a long-range, which makes UWB an effective communication method for devices such as wireless security cameras.

The UWB signal works by sending out ultra-short pulses of energy with extremely fast rise and fall times (faster than the time it takes sound to travel one foot). UWB signals can be used in two different ways: as a carrier wave or as a pulsed signal. Carrier-wave UWB transmits data by modulating the UWB signal to create an RF carrier wave. Pulsed UWB transmits data by turning the UWB signal on and off at high speeds, similar to Morse code.

Diagram representing the stack structure of a Wireless USB system - It includes its relation to the underlying Ultra-WideBand layers
Diagram representing the stack structure of a Wireless USB system. It includes its relation to the underlying Ultra-WideBand layers and indicates implementation differences between W-USB and wired USB layers. (Image: Rob Blanco / Wikimedia)

There are two main types of UWB signals: UWB-CDMA and UWB-OFDM. UWB-CDMA is used in wireless communication standards such as Bluetooth UWB, Wireless USB UWB, and ZigBee Ultra-Wideband (ZigBee UWB), which you might be familiar with from consumer-grade smart home solutions. These technologies use the same basic principles of pulsed UWBs but they vary in how their signals are transmitted over the air. UWB-OFDM is used in the ultra-wideband IEEE 802.15 standard, which is the basis for the new WiMedia Alliance UWB specification.

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One of the main advantages of UWB technology is that it can use multiple frequencies to send data simultaneously, allowing it to achieve high data rates. UWB signals can also be used for UWB imaging, allowing them to scan objects and determine their shapes. UWB technology is still in its infancy but it has a promising future as we continue to develop new applications that can take advantage of UWBs unique properties.

What is ultra-wideband used for today?

Ultra-wideband technology, UWB for short, is a term used to describe a range of wireless technologies that operate in the frequency spectrum from 3.1GHz to 10.6GHz. UWB is commonly used for high-speed data transfers, low latency communication, and UWB Positioning Systems (UWBPS).

Verizon’s evanescent millimeter-wave 5G (aka 5G Ultra Wideband) finds an Inseego hotspot in Arlington’s Long Bridge Park
Verizon’s evanescent millimeter-wave 5G (aka 5G Ultra Wideband) finds an Inseego hotspot in Arlington’s Long Bridge Park. (Image: Rob Pegoraro / Flickr)

Some common applications of UWB technology include:

  • High-speed data transfers: UWB can be used to quickly send large amounts of data between devices. For example, UWB can be used in conjunction with 5G networks to provide faster speeds and more bandwidth.
  • Low Latency Communication: UWB is well suited for low latency communication due to its short transmission time and small packet size. This makes UWB ideal for applications such as gaming, where low latency is critical to maintaining a smooth gameplay experience.
  • UWBPS: UWB can also be used for positioning and tracking purposes. UWBPS uses ultra-wideband signals to calculate the location of objects in real-time. This makes UWB an attractive option for applications such as automotive safety and collision avoidance. UWBPS can also be used for security applications, such as people or object tracking.

Apple has been making headlines recently with its new products and services. UWB technology is the latest innovation that Apple plans to use in its future products and services, and they are already making use of this technology in their AirTags, for instance. UWB is a wireless communication technology that operates at ultra-wideband frequencies, which are higher than those used by other wireless technologies such as Bluetooth or WiFi. UWB uses these high-frequency waves because they provide a greater range and bandwidth for data transmission, meaning more information can be sent over the same amount of time without interference from competing networks or devices.

Apple AirTag - UWB Product Example
Close-up of the Apple AirTag shows a mention of using ultra-wideband technology (Image: KKPCW / Wikimedia)

Apple’s interest in UWB isn’t surprising considering UWB’s ability to deliver faster speeds wirelessly while consuming less power than current Wi-Fi standards like 802.11ac. UWB also has the potential to improve indoor location tracking for devices like the iPhone, which is currently done using a combination of Bluetooth and WiFi signals. The addition of UWB could help Apple deliver even more accurate location data indoors, where GPS signals can be unreliable.

Apple isn’t the only company that’s interested in UWB technology. Many other companies, including Samsung, have been working on UWB-based products and services. For example, Samsung has developed a UWB-based chipset that can be used in smartphones, tablets, and other portable devices.

UWB technology is not new, but how telecommunication technology companies use it nowadays wildly differs from how it was used originally. It will be interesting to see how Apple and other companies use it in their future products and services. UWB has a lot of promise for delivering faster speeds wirelessly to devices while consuming less power, but the technology will have to overcome several challenges before it can be widely used by consumers.

What could UWB be used for in the future?

Ultra-wideband is a term for a range of frequencies that fall between microwave and infrared radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum. UWB signals can carry more data than traditional Wi-Fi signals, which means they could be used for a variety of purposes in the future, including:

  • Connecting devices without wires
  • Delivering high-definition video content
  • Enhancing security features
  • Facilitating communication between vehicles and infrastructure
  • Detecting movement in crowded areas

The use of ultra-wideband could mean big things for the future of smart buildings and smart cities. By using UWB signals to connect devices without wires, deliver high-definition video content, enhance security features, and facilitate communication between vehicles and infrastructure, we can make our cities and buildings more efficient and secure. UWB could also be used to detect movement in crowded areas, which could help improve safety and security. With so many potential uses, it’s exciting to think about what UWB could bring to the future of smart buildings and smart cities.


YouTube: The Future is Ultra-Wideband (possibly promotional material)

Photo credit: The feature image has been done by Đức Trịnh. The historic image of Guglielmo Marconi was prepared by Alex Microbe. The photo showing an installation of a Piper Networks device was taken by Tdorante10. The infographic showing the Wireless USB protocol stack was designed by Rob Blanco. The photo showing 5G Ultra Wideband in operation was taken by Rob Pegoraro. The close-up of an Apple AirTag has been prepared by KKPCW (Kyu3).

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Christopher Isakhttps://techacute.com
Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris the founder of TechAcute. I write about technology news and share experiences from my life in the enterprise world. Drop by on Twitter and say 'hi' sometime. ;)

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