A new consortium has launched to drive ultra-wideband (UWB) technology for accurate fine ranging applications, and to ensure interoperability across the ecosystem of chipset, device and service infrastructure through standards and certifications.

The FiRa Consortium, driven by four sponsor members, aims to build on the IEEE 802.15.4/4z standard for low-data-rate wireless connectivity and enhanced ranging. It says it will develop an interoperability standard based on the IEEE’s profiled features, defining mechanisms that are out of scope of the IEEE standard, and pursuing activities that support rapid development of specific use cases.

FiRa Driver

The FiRa consortium will build on the IEEE standard and help ensure interoperability (Image: FiRa)

The sponsor members are The ASSA ABLOY Group, which includes HID Global, and NXP Semiconductors, Samsung Electronics, and Bosch; the first companies to join the newly formed FiRa organization are Sony Imaging Products & Solutions Inc., LitePoint and the Telecommunications Technology Association (TTA).

Why UWB and what is different now?

So, what is different about this UWB technology compared to the one that faded away a few years ago as a localized standard for applications like wireless HDMI? In a briefing with EE Times, Rafael Sotomayor, senior vice president, GM at NXP Semiconductors, explained that UWB originally served as a technology for high data-rate communication and as such was in direct competition with WiFi. “It never found a footing because WiFi got better and there was never a need for high-speed Bluetooth,” he commented.

Since then, UWB has undergone several transformations. It evolved from an OFDM-based data communication approach to an impulse radio technology specified in IEEE 802.15.4a (2ns pulses with time of flight and angle of arrival measurements); additionally, a security extension being specified in IEEE 802.15.4z (at PHY/RF level) makes it a unique secure fine ranging and sensing technology.

“Hence what is different now is that it is a sensing technology and not a communications technology. This is the first time you can truly include accurate spatial information. You can already do ranging with Bluetooth or with other technologies, but the best accuracy you might get is 2 meters. This is not enough for, say, positioning applications where you need precise location.” He added, “For the first time, we have technology that gives you accuracy with low latency, and it is quite resistant to blockers, such as line of sight blockers.”

The move from data communication to secure sensing offers spatial context capability to a variety of applications, such as seamless access control, location-based services, and device-to-device services.

The new UWB ‘outperforms in terms of accuracy and security’

NXP said the consortium wants to move away from the UWB moniker and to eliminate the confusion with many in the industry have with the old OFDM-based UWB. The FiRa name, which stands for ‘fine ranging’, highlights UWB technology’s ability to deliver a high level of accuracy when measuring the distance or determining the relative position of a target.  The FiRa consortium said especially in challenging environments, UWB technology outperforms other technologies in terms of accuracy, power consumption, robustness in RF connection, and security, by a wide margin.

FiRa logo

 

“As an industry consortium, we believe UWB technology can transform the way people experience connectivity, and we’re committed to the widespread adoption of interoperable UWB technologies,” says Charlie Zhang, chair of the FiRa Consortium and VP engineering, Samsung Electronics.

Due to its low-power spectral density, UWB offers little to no interference with other wireless standards, so it is suited for use with other technologies, including near field communication (NFC), Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi.

There are also adjacent markets that leverage UWB in other ways, especially automotive. “The FiRa Consortium’s commitment to a complete ecosystem means we will work with other consortia and industry players to develop approaches and define parameters,” said Charles Dachs, vice-chair of the FiRa Consortium and GM & VP secure embedded transactions, NXP Semiconductors.

As an example of industry collaboration, Dachs told *EE Times* that it is talking to the Car Connectivity Consortium about car access. He said FiRa’s role would likely be to look at compliance of devices that connect into the consortium. He added that FiRa’s intention is to position itself as complementary to other standards groups, such as those for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

FiRa’s focus

There was, interestingly, no mention of the UWB Alliance that was launched last year. NXP did however clarify with a statement underlining FiRa’s focus, which it said is not the focus of the UWB Alliance. NXP said the success of UWB secure fine ranging will depend on an interoperable, holistic, and inter-connected ecosystem, and hence FiRa’s focus is:

  1. To ensure interoperability between several devices, through compliance and certification programs.
  2. Collaborate closely with other industry organizations such as IEEE, Wi-Fi Alliance, CCC and others. FiRa will focus on UWB use cases utilizing the available 6-9GHz spectrum.
  3. Bring in companies that bring extensive ecosystem knowhow, leadership positions in targeted market verticals, broad technical and system expertise as well as strong presence and experience in other consortia relevant to UWB.

FiRa use cases

Use cases for UWB (Image: FiRa)

NXP also said that rebranding is significant, and carrying another name, FiRa (fine ranging), will be important to overcome UWB’s stereotype as an old communication technology and instead emphasizes its transformation towards a secure fine ranging and sensing technology.

Dachs said that FiRa will have a number of working groups (WG) to drive the consortium’s mission. These include a requirements WG, a technical WG, a compliance and certification WG and a regulatory WG. Under the technical WG, a physical access task group is already running, led by HID Global, and hopes to have a final version of the specification by the end of the year. In addition, the compliance WG is also working on a draft first document that is expected soon, according to Dachs.

One of the first members of the consortium, LitePoint, said UWB opens up new and complementary wireless connectivity use-cases. The company’s director or marketing, Adam Smith, said, “We're excited to help establish an ecosystem in which companies can utilize these new technologies by providing a fully-integrated UWB test solution, making it simple to validate the performance of UWB devices. At LitePoint, our mission is to help companies bring cutting-edge UWB products to market and that’s why we’re pleased to part of the FiRa Consortium team.” The vice president of the Telecommunications Technology Association, Yongbum Park, added, “Device-to-device fine ranging technology without additional equipment is very useful for home or industrial applications.”