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UWB in iOS 13 Could Prompt Widespread Growth

Technology companies, equipment manufacturers and automotive firms are preparing for a potential widescale growth of ultra-wideband solutions as Apple's new operating system employs the technology; other mobile phone makers may be following close behind.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 21, 2019

Since Apple announced, in June 2019, that it is building ultra-wideband (UWB) technology into its new iOS devices, technology companies and consortiums have been preparing for anticipated growth in UWB applications and deployments in the coming years. These include keyless, hands-free vehicle access and Internet of Things (IoT)-based solutions for household, business and industrial use cases.

Apple's new Find My app for instance, is believed to employ UWB to track the locations of items that have a so-called "Apple Tag" attached to them. These circular tags, which would be sold only by Apple for iOS products, could be affixed to backpacks, keys or other items so that users could easily find them via an iPhone. Users can employ the Find My app with an "items" tab, into which they would enter the objects they wish to track via the Apple Tag. Typically, UWB enables that kind of location precision within about 5 to 10 centimeters (2 to 3.9 inches), without requiring line of sight.

ABI Research's Andrew Zignani
While it is unclear whether Apple will offer the UWB functionality as an open feature that app developers can use to build their own solution, it does mean UWB deployments are likely to become much more commonplace. For the UWB industry, that could result in new opportunities for deployments of the technology with a smartphone serving as a UWB anchor reading transmissions of a tag, or transmitting data to another UWB anchor, using time of flight (ToA) and angle of arrival (AoA) measurements to detect items' locations. The phone then becomes a localization tool to identify where things or individuals are located, within inches.

In February of this year, the IEEE 802.15.4z standard was announced to make mobile transactions interoperable and secure, further propelling UWB developments. The standard has not yet been released, but is in its final stages prior to that release. Apple is an early member of the UWB 802.15.4z Task Group, which also includes Samsung and NXP Semiconductors, according to Andrew Zignani, a principal analyst at global technology market advisory firm ABI Research. "ABI Research believes it is only a matter of time before other mobile devices support UWB technology," he states. Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

In recent years, ABI Research and other analysts have seen growing traction for UWB technology, particularly within real-time location system (RTLS) deployments in manufacturing environments. In April 2018, Zignani says, Siemens announced the acquisition of RTLS company Agilion for industrial applications. A number of other companies, such as Sewio, Zebra Technologies and IoT technology firm KINEXON, are targeting this space, he adds. By 2025, Zignani predicts, "ABI Research anticipates there will be nearly 16,000 UWB implementations in manufacturing environments alone."

USER COMMENTS

Stephen Taylor 2019-10-22 05:30:24 PM
It's an exciting time for UWB--and I agree that this Apple announcement is likely to make UWB much more commonplace. My company (WISER Systems) has been in the UWB asset tracking space for a few years now, and we've been asked to supply solutions across quite a few different verticals already. I think having UWB chips in consumer devices is just going to widen the spread of how people use it.

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