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What is the difference between ultra-wideband and Bluetooth? Discover the pros and cons of each technology to find the best fit for your Real-Time Locating System (RTLS) needs.

What is ultra-wideband (UWB)?

Ultra-wideband is a low-power radio technology for transmitting data within the 3.1 to 10.6 GHz range. The wide bandwidth this technology operates in minimizes interference from other radio transmissions. UWB can transmit large amounts of data by occupying a large bandwidth in specified time intervals, known as pulse-position modulation. Ultra-wideband technology (UWB) has gained a significant amount of attention due to its ability to provide high bandwidth data connections over short distances. UWB positioning determines a sensor’s location in short ranges, typically between 1 to 50 meters as long as there is a line of sight between sensors and anchors.

How does ultra-wideband (UWB) positioning work?

Sensors attached to assets or people transmit a wide-band signal at a set interval to various fixed anchor points nearby, which then communicate this data to a central server. The most common way UWB technology is used to position assets and people is through Time Difference of Arrival (TDoA). The central server calculates the time differences of arrival from each anchor to identify the precise location of the sensor, accurate within 10cm. TDoA calculations typically require a sensor to communicate with at least 4 anchors within line of sight.

What is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)?

Bluetooth Low Energy is a radio frequency technology that transmits data in the 2.4 GHz spectrum band, specifically across 80 different 1 MHz wide channels from 2400 to 2483.5 MHz. Many other technologies, such as WiFi or ZigBee, also operate in the 2.4GHz band, but Bluetooth Low Energy avoids interference through short-range frequency hopping. Bluetooth devices negotiate with other devices to create a path for communication by jumping between the 80 channels. Bluetooth Low Energy differs from its parent technology, Bluetooth, because it uses a much lower amount of power. Unlike traditional Bluetooth, BLE remains dormant until the system initiates a connection. BLE also uses a reduced amount of power through faster connection times than traditional Bluetooth devices, reducing connections from 100 mS to 6 mS.

How does Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) positioning work?

BLE positioning uses sensors fixed to assets or people to communicate with relay devices in the surrounding environment.  When a Bluetooth sensor is within range of relays, trilateration is used to compute the location of the asset or person with sub-meter accuracy. Trilateration uses the known distance from at least three fixed relays to calculate the location of the asset based on its RSSI, or Bluetooth signal strength. This data is forwarded to a Gateway, which records the location data and sends it to a host computer or cloud database to provide business intelligence around the data. The precision of BLE positioning systems is related to the density of relays, which is determined by the specific use case. Bluetooth relays and sensors do not require cabling or permanent infrastructure to install, making them quick to deploy and easy to scale.

What are the applications of UWB or BLE positioning?

Both of these technologies are promising new advancements. UWB promises to let us transmit more data than before with high bandwidth connections. UWB is best for targeted applications requiring high precision as one radio chip cannot support the full range of solutions currently available over BLE. BLE positioning leads to low-cost, easily deployable systems capable of supporting everything from workflow optimization to remote security monitoring. The nomadic nature of BLE positioning systems allows one technology to support multiple use cases. Learn more about BLE solutions here.

How does UWB compare to BLE?

Generally, UWB offers a better range than BLE, however, BLE has better mobility and connectivity as it does not require line of sight. UWB has the potential to provide higher bandwidth for data exchange between stationary points such as desktop workstations, but it lacks the mobility of BLE. BLE offers a much more extensive set of hardware options that can be easily implemented at a much lower cost in a wider variety of conditions. BLE has lower deployment costs, minimal maintenance, low energy consumption, and is easy to scale. In short, both technologies have their own strengths and weaknesses that are dependent on the use case.

Bluetooth (BLE) Ultra-wideband (UWB)
Frequencies 2.4GHz 3.1 to 10.6 GHz
Location Accuracy 1 meter 10 centimeters
Range Optimal 0 to 25m, up to 150m Optimal 1 to 30m, up to 200m
Power Consumption Very Low Low

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