Ultrawideband Tech Making Comeback with IoT

Article By : Rick Merritt

Technologies previously touted as wireless alternatives to HDMI and USB making comeback a decade later.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Ultrawideband technology once a contender for use in mainstream notebook PCs is staging a comeback in the Internet of Things. Proponent DecaWave aims to set up a new trade group for UWB with a portion of the $30 million funding round it recently closed.

Several startups tried to establish the IEEE 802.15.3 version of UWB as a wireless alternative to USB and HDMI a decade ago, but their efforts failed to gain traction. DecaWave and others targeted the 802.15.4a version of UWB for personal-area location where it delivers centimeter accuracy over 100-200 meter distances — and its gaining traction.

About a half dozen companies now offer such UWB chips. DecaWave alone claims it has sold more than 4 million chips, has two users now consuming more than a million a year and other customers ready to move from trials to deployments.

The growth calls for a UBW alliance that can certify interoperability standards, deal with global regulatory issues and promote the technology, said Mickael Viot, vice president of marketing at DecaWave who hopes to get a trade group launched this year.

Other UWB chip vendors who would be invited include 3db of Switzerland, Alereon, Bespoon (acquired by German machine tool maker Trumpf in mid-2017), Novelda, Time Domain (acquired by 5DRobotics in mid-2016) and Ubisense. The group would also include OEMs and end users. Decawave alone has more than 20 OEM partners and 150 customers in some level of production use, Viot said.

A larger chunk of DecaWave’s funding targets a next-generation chip made in a 40nm process. The design will integrate many of the 27 external components the current chip requires to approach highly integrated Bluetooth Low Energy chips that use as few as five external components.

DecaWave DWM1001

DecaWave’s existing chip rides its DWM1001 module. (Image: DecaWave)

UWB location fills a gap between the meter range of RFID and the multiple kilometers of LoRa and Sigfox. “We could cover a supermarket with five or six readers easily,” said Viot of one target application on the horizon.

With its latest funding, DecaWave has taken in $60 million total in capital since it was founded in 2004. It aims to become profitable sometime next year.

Applications for UWB location services are broad, covering as many as 40 vertical markets from factory automation to hospitals, mines and smart homes. More than half of DecaWave’s business is now in China where smart city projects may use millions chips for automatically billed parking, among other applications.

— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times

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