FiRa Consortium hits UWB milestones

The FiRa Consortium, which is focused on driving Ultra-Wideband (UWB) expansion, announced the launch of the initial phase of its certification program aimed at driving interoperability between UWB devices. 

The group claims that UWB technology outperforms other technologies in challenging environments when it comes to accuracy, power consumption and security. It can be used to locate people and things within a centimeter or two, compared with several meters or more for other technologies, making it ideal for multiple industries and applications.

Problem is, it hasn’t taken off yet. That might be, in part, because it’s come up through the IEEE, which is the keeper of the standard on which UWB is based, but it doesn’t do certification or interoperability testing. UWB is based on the IEEE 802.15.4z specifications.

Clint Chaplin, co-chair of the FiRa Compliance & Certification Work Group (CCWG) and a standards engineer at Samsung Research America, likens the FiRa Consortium to some extent to the Wi-Fi Alliance, which he was part of during the early days. When Wi-Fi first came out, it was used to do communications between terminals in warehouses and such.

Then the idea emerged to use Wi-Fi to connect computers or laptops and it grew from there. He admits they were a bit astounded when the first refrigerator showed up to be Wi-Fi certified. “And then the toys started showing up,” he said, noting that touched off a string of products that no one had previously dreamed of.

A similar thing is happening now. “We’re enabling a technology right now that can be used for a lot of different purposes,” including applications as diverse as safety and advertising.

In challenging environments, such as parking structures, hospitals, airports, and high-density venues, UWB wireless technology is the way to go, according to the FiRa Consortium, a separate entity from the UWB Alliance, which shares some of the same members.

RELATED: UWB Alliance to focus on interoperability, further boosting the UWB ecosystem

The FiRa Consortium boasts that it’s now passed 100 members, which includes all of the top handset manufacturers globally. The group’s website lists Apple, Samsung and Qualcomm among the sponsor members, and Google, Facebook and Sony among the contributor members.

“UWB is fast becoming a pillar of wireless local connectivity technology alongside Wi-Fi and Bluetooth,” said Charlie Zhang, board chair of FiRa Consortium, in a statement. “When combined with the membership momentum we are seeing, our certification program signifies that the market is prepared and ready for broad implementation of UWB across market sectors.”

FiRa Consortium’s certification program is the first to provide baseline testing and certification focused on UWB’s pinpoint location and spacing capabilities, one of the key steps needed to facilitate interoperability of devices, according to the group. This is an essential component of FiRa’s vision for the future of fine-ranging UWB where certified smart phones can find location tags, securely unlock doors and interact seamlessly with consumer electronics built using FiRa-certified UWB technology from any vendor.

RELATED: UWB Alliance cites ‘grave concerns’ about proposed power levels in 6 GHz band

All FiRa Certified devices will be tested by independent Authorized Test Laboratories (ATLs) using the FiRa Device Certification Process. Devices must meet FiRa specifications for MAC/PHY conformance – demonstrating that the device conforms to the relevant FiRa specifications.

According to the group, manufacturers can now start moving toward certifying their devices for MAC/PHY conformance. The first products will be certified by the end of 2021, with “many more” expected to be certified in 2022. FiRa Consortium said it will continue to develop UWB certification for layers above MAC/PHY, with the next iteration slated for mid-2022.