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You’ve heard of wireless standards like , and . Now it’s time to learn about another: ultra wideband, or UWB.
The technology, which has begun arriving in phones, tracking tags and a few cars, uses radio signals to pinpoint a device’s location. UWB is the foundation of tracking tags like and , which can help you find a lost keychain, purse, wallet or pet. In a few cases, like the like the , UWB lets you unlock your car as you approach with your phone, and it should let you do so with your home’s front door, too.
UWB calculates locations to within less than a half inch by measuring how long it takes super-short radio pulses to travel between devices. It can also transfer data — indeed, that’s what it was originally designed to do more than a decade ago — but for now, that’s a sidelight compared to precise positioning.
For now, UWB’s uses are limited. But as it matures and spreads to more devices, UWB could lead to a world where just carrying your phone or wearing your watch helps log you into your laptop as you approach or lock your house when you leave.
Apple is one of the biggest UWB fans. It designed its own UWB chip, the U1, and builds it into iPhones, AirTags and Apple Watches. That’s how newer iPhones use “precision finding” to lead you to an an AirTag-equipped keychain or Apple Watch within range. Carmakers including , BMW, Hyundai and are hot for UWB, too.
“Being able to determine precisely where you are in an environment is increasingly important,” said ABI Research analyst Andrew Zignani, who expects shipments of UWB-enabled devices to surge from 150 million in 2020 to 1 billion in 2025. “Once a technology becomes embedded in a smartphone, that opens up very significant opportunities for wireless technology.”