Apple Gives Ultra Wideband a Spin

Apple has introduced its U1 ultra wideband (UWB) chip with the iPhone 11 for, the company says, "spatial awareness".

So far, Apple has only announced that the U1 chip will be used for a version of its AirDrop app that uses location to determine if another iPhone 11 is nearby. UWB calculates distance from another device by measuring how long it takes to send and return a signal from one UWB transceiver to another.

UWB can determine positions indoors with an accuracy of up to 10 centimeters. UWB radios use short signal pulses over a broad spectrum -- if the central frequency being used is 5GHz, the transmission will spread into 4GHz and 6GHz bands. The technology has a speed of 480 Mbit/s at 1 meter, or 110 Mbit/s at 10 meters.

Despite the lone application available so far to the U1 chip, this hasn't stopped Apple fanboys from breathlessly suggesting a whole range of uses for the technology, from keyless car entry to smart home devices.

UWB has a long history in wireless, it was first used in phased array radar in the late 1950s. Initial UWB personal area networking (PAN) devices started to arrive in the late 1990s.

UWB technology had a brief spell in the venture capital (VC) sunshine back in the early 2000s, but it has since been largely overtaken by protocols like Bluetooth and 60GHz WiGig for controlling wireless peripherals.

The term, however, hasn't died. Verizon has called its fixed and mobile millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G "Ultra Wideband" since its launch in October 2018. No word yet of any big 5G name change plans at Big Red yet!

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— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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