What Is Ultra Wideband?

If you’ve been following the world of mobile phone technology of late, you may be aware that Apple’s latest IPhones and AirTag locator tags bring something new to that platform. Ultra wideband radios are the new hotness when it comes to cellphones, so just what are they and what’s in it for those of us who experiment with these things?

An Apple AirTag being paired with an iPhone. Swisshashtag, CC BY-SA 4.0.
An Apple AirTag being paired with an iPhone. Swisshashtag, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Ultra wideband in this context refers to radio signals with a very high bandwidth of over 500 MHz, and a very low overall power density spread over that¬† spectrum. Transmissions are encoded not by modulation of discrete-frequency carriers as they would be in a conventional radio system, but by the emission of wideband pulses of RF energy across that bandwidth.¬† It can exist across the same unlicensed spectrum as narrower bandwidth channelised services, and that huge bandwidth gives it an extremely high short-range data transfer bandwidth capability. The chipsets used by consumer devices use a range of UWB channels between about 3.5 and 6.5 GHz, which in radio terms is an immense quantity of spectrum. Continue reading “What Is Ultra Wideband?”

Teardown Of An UWB Location Beacon

Outdoor navigation is a problem that can be considered solved for decades or maybe even centuries, depending on the levels of accuracy, speed and accessibility required. Indoor navigation and location, on the other hand, is a relatively new field and we are still figuring it out. Currently there are at least four competing technologies pushed by different manufacturers. One is ultra wide band radio and [Marco van Nieuwenhoven] shows us what a beacon using this technology is made of.

In his thorough tear down of an Estimote location beacon, he comes up with a complete parts list and schematics for each of the four PCB layers. The beacons are controlled by a Cortex M4 and feature Bluetooth radio in addition to the UWB part. They also come with a three-axis accelerometer, temperature, ambient light and pressure sensors and NFC capability. These boards combine a lot of functionality in a compact package and [Marco]’s stated intent is to create an open source firmware for them.

Hacking proprietary hardware, especially when doing so in public may get you in legal trouble, but in this case [Marco] has contacted the manufacturer, and the relationship seems to be friendly so far. Let’s hope it stays that way; these things look like a promising platform and may become a lower cost alternative to the evaluation kit running the same UWB radio we featured earlier. Alternatively you could ditch the UWB and use WiFi for indoor location.