Ultra Wideband Explained in Simple Terms

ultra widebandIn recent days there has been a great deal of hype surrounding “UWB” or Ultra Wideband. There have been stories about how this absolutely amazing technology will revolutionize everything we know and do. There is some truth to this hype, but there’s also a lot of misinformation out on the net as well. We thought we would break it down into simple terms for you, and how you can use it in your daily life as well as your business.



History of UWB Technology: Where Did it Start?

The concept behind UWB was originally developed for use by the military, but recently things have changed and now companies such as T-Mobile and Intel are starting to get involved with its development.

The origin of UWB is somewhat obscure but several universities including MIT and the University of Maryland are credited with pioneering the concept. The basic theory behind UWB communications is to take advantage of the fact that when a radar pulse reaches a target, some part of it reflects off while another part passes through. In other words, there is “backscatter”. The ratio of backscatter to forward scatter is known as the “transmit-to-receive gain” (the larger the transmit/receive gain, the better). When this transmit/receive gain is large enough then it becomes possible to have an ultra wideband communications system.



How Does it Work?

In a typical UWB communications system, a transmitter generates a very short pulse of radio frequency (RF) energy. This RF pulse travels over a path to the receiver. At the same time, some of the energy also reflects off an obstacle in its path and returns back towards the sender. The amount of energy that reflects is dependent on the transmit/receive gain.

The receiver has a well-known pulse shape and waits for the reflection to return and match that pulse shape. If you can configure the transmitter and receiver with an ultra wideband radio, then it becomes possible to send large amounts of data over short distances very quickly — particularly if there are a lot of reflectors within range of your UWB device.

If you control the impulse response of your ultra wideband device, then in theory, it will become much easier to distinguish signals from background noise. For example, imagine observing a room full of people talking simultaneously. If you’re not familiar with some particular person’s voice (and he/she isn’t speaking loudly enough) it will be difficult to distinguish what that person is saying from all of the other background noise. However, if you know the person well and he/she speaks clearly then you’ll understand almost everything being said — even with a lot of background noise present. This same idea applies to ultra wideband devices. If they’re configured properly, an ultra wideband receiver can discern a specific signal even from very poor reception conditions due to interference or low levels of power in the UWB pulse itself.


The transmit-to-receive gain depends on several different characteristics such as:


1.) The impulse response (the shape of your transmitted pulse).


2.) The amount of power in the transmitted pulse.


3.) The reflectivity factor of the objects within range of your UWB device.


4.) The distance between the transmitter and receiver.



The Last Word

Some principles explained above are not specific to ultra wideband systems only, they apply to all kinds of radio-based communication devices and systems including radars. For example, a police officer uses similar techniques when aiming his/her radar gun at an approaching motorist as he would use with his/her headlights if trying to see into a building from out front or behind. This is an example of reflection and the two receivers (headlights/radar) work in the same manner – transfer information about reflected signals to humans, who can interpret received data. So, what’s ultra wideband? It’s a communication concept that uses reflection technology to transmit very short impulses (instead of continuous signals) at around 100 GHz.

As you can see, when you break down UWB communications systems they’re really not that complex and it’s not all that difficult to understand what makes them work. Of course there’s more involved but understanding just how ultra wideband works at a basic level is actually fairly simple if one takes the time to do some research into these matters. The important thing to remember here is that while the technology may be rather new; its underlying principles are by no means anything unique. For example, sound waves (acoustics) follow much the same rules as light waves; i.e., any time an object moves air particles around in a certain pattern, sound is produced. The only distinction here lies in the fact that ultra wideband devices are capable of producing movement at a slightly higher frequency than those we hear when someone talks to us (generally around 16 kilohertz).


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