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Good Citizenship Among Great Protocols: Planning for Future Interoperability Between UWB, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi 

  • October 26, 2022

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The overwhelmingly positive feedback on our recently announced UWB interoperability testing initiative – conducted in collaboration with UWB Alliance – affirms the growing industry anticipation and excitement for the future of mainstream UWB commercialization. For applications like wireless gaming and audio, positioning/location awareness, and mobile AR/VR in the metaverse, it’s crucial that we work together to ensure UWB’s seamless coexistence among complementary short-range wireless technologies like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. 

Each of these technologies brings compelling attributes to the table that should be carefully weighed as we take a long view of our evolving wireless needs into the future. These deliberations will directly affect wireless protocol and device interoperability in the immediate short term. Bigger picture, these industry discussions can impact how radio frequency spectrum is allocated going forward. 

So how do these technologies – UWB, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi – compare with one another when it comes to servicing the smart glasses and mobile AR/VR devices of tomorrow? The answers are important to understanding how these technologies can be deployed most effectively together over the long term. 

COMPARING UWB, BLUETOOTH AND WI-FI

Bluetooth occupies a different frequency band than UWB, so interference and interoperability between them aren’t pressing concerns. Instead, as UWB becomes ubiquitous alongside Bluetooth within wireless consumer devices, attention will focus on how each will be employed within these devices to play to their respective strengths.  

Bluetooth/BLE offers pretty good (but not great) power efficiency, but with extremely low data rates and high latency compared to UWB. As such, Bluetooth falls short for the heavy data and multimedia demands of smart glasses and mobile AR/VR/metaverse apps of the future. 

Wi-Fi being a local area network communications standard, on the other hand, is well suited in many respects for high data throughput apps – but at a huge power penalty compared to UWB and Bluetooth. Blasting up to 1,000X more RF output power than UWB, Wi-Fi achieves broader coverage areas at the expense of heavy power consumption and saturation. 

As such, Wi-Fi’s limitations for mobile applications outside homes, businesses and hotspots are obvious, for smart glasses and AR/VR apps as well as body area network (BAN) and personal area network (PAN) apps we’re already accustomed to when we’re on-the-go today, including mobile audio/earbuds and keyless ID/access, for example.

SPARK Microsystems, like many others in the wireless technology community, views UWB as a best-of-both-worlds technology that brings together the strengths of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for short range wireless apps. Andwe recognize that all three technologies represent a valuable piece of the puzzle, and their interaction and interoperability must be made seamless going forward.

COEXISTENCE IN THE SPECTRUM

RF spectrum is a precious natural resource – it’s both critical and finite. We can’t make more of it, so we do the absolute best with what we have – not just for our current technology needs, but for the needs of generations to come. Decisions made today about protocol interoperability and spectrum allocation can impact the viability of applications we haven’t even imagined yet. 

SPARK is committed to working collaboratively with our peers, our competitors, and industry organizations like UWB Alliance alike to help ensure that together we achieve effective coexistence strategies among wireless protocols and increase the utility and standardization of these protocols with consistent global regulations. 

SPARK’s recent coexistence testing – stay tuned, there’s more to come! – directly aligns with our mission to be responsible stewards for UWB technology, today and tomorrow. For more information about phase one of the multi-step UWB interoperability testing project underway with SPARK and the UWB Alliance, be sure to read our recent news announcement.