MAPSTED BLOG

UWB vs BLE: Which Offers More Accuracy?

July 09, 2024
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Technology Trends

UWB vs BLE

When it comes to real-time location systems (RTLS), several technologies are widely used, two of the most prominent being Ultra-Wideband (UWB) and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). Both technologies are linked with the Internet of Things (IoT), enabling real-time tracking of people and objects. However, key differences in accuracy and implementation make each technology suitable for different use cases. The rising adoption of IoT in smart cities is a significant factor in this growth, as these technologies enable a range of applications from smart traffic management to waste management.

UWB and BLE: Similarities and Differences

Both UWB and BLE share the ability to track assets. However, UWB stands out for its superior accuracy compared to BLE. This is attributed to the fundamental difference in their positioning methods: UWB employs Time-of-Flight (ToF) measurements, while BLE traditionally relied on Received Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI), which estimates location based on signal strength. However, with advancements in BLE versions 5.1 and above, algorithms like Angle of Arrival (AoA) have enabled BLE to achieve accuracy levels comparable to UWB in certain scenarios.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE): The Low-Power Workhorse

BLE, a high-frequency radio technology, transmits data packets within the 2.4 GHz band. While conventional Bluetooth is known for pairing devices like headphones, BLE finds extensive use in commercial and industrial sectors without the need for pairing.

BLE is designed for low energy consumption, offering a range four times greater and twice the speed of classic Bluetooth. With BLE, devices can be detected quickly within a range of up to 50 meters. Its “sleep” mode operation, activating only for fast data transmission, contributes to its impressive battery life of up to five years on a single charge. This makes Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) perfect for applications requiring sporadic use.

BLE Beacons: The Proximity Powerhouses

BLE beacons are small hardware devices that transmit radio wave signals intermittently to locate smartphones within a certain radius. They act as signal emitters, while smartphones act as receivers. Beacons enable actions like proximity marketing notifications, requiring users to download an app and authorize communication.

While commonly associated with marketing, beacons primarily track people and objects indoors, helping managers understand asset and employee movement for optimization. Use cases span logistics, industries, hospitals, malls and facilities management.

Advantages and Disadvantages of BLE 

Advantages:

  • Low power consumption (up to 5-year battery life for beacons)
  • Minimal smartphone battery drain
  • Low maintenance cost
  • Cost-effective deployment
  • Broad compatibility with consumer devices (most smartphones support BLE)

Disadvantages:

  • Accuracy typically ranges from 1 to 5 meters
  • Limited precision for highly demanding applications

Ultra-Wideband (UWB): The Precision Specialist

Ultra-Wideband is a wireless communication technology that utilizes electromagnetic pulses. It enables high-speed, high-capacity data transmission, resulting in more accurate device location and communication. UWB operates with a bandwidth of at least 500 MHz, but its low energy levels prevent interference with other technologies within the same range.

UWB technology’s short-range capabilities and high bandwidth make it ideal for precise asset tracking and communication. It can predict the relative position and movement of assets within 10 to 30 centimeters and boasts a transmission rate of 110 Mbit/s.

Did you know Apple introduced UWB 2.0 in 2023, their latest devices to improve the accuracy and range of their location services. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of UWB

Advantages:

  • Extremely high accuracy (up to 10 cm)
  • High transmission rates
  • Low susceptibility to interference due to high frequencies and wide bandwidth

Disadvantages:

  • Limited existing infrastructure
  • Not widely supported by devices and smartphones
  • Higher deployment and maintenance costs
  • Higher energy consumption
  • Unsuitable for large data transfers due to lower data transmission rate

UWB vs BLE: Choosing the Right Technology

The best technology depends on your specific use case. BLE boasts high adoption, low cost and sufficient accuracy for many scenarios. Ultra-Wideband excels where ultra-precise location is paramount, such as pinpointing products on store shelves.

Currently, UWB infrastructure faces challenges due to limited device compatibility. However, major players like Apple, Samsung and Google are investing in UWB, suggesting increased adoption in the future.

UWB + BLE: A Synergistic Future

As UWB gains traction, the ideal approach might involve combining both technologies. BLE efficiently locates and identifies devices, while UWB provides precise location through distance and direction changes. The challenge lies in developing algorithms for seamless interaction, but this hybrid approach promises to elevate geolocation services to new heights.

ABI Research forecasts at 14% compound annual growth rate for the global Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) market through 2029, with operators deploying $19 billion in FWA connectivity spending by then. This 5G infrastructure expansion could drive more adoption of UWB and BLE across various applications.

Conclusion

The choice between UWB and BLE ultimately hinges on your specific needs and priorities. BLE offers a cost-effective, widely adopted solution with decent accuracy, making it suitable for many general tracking applications. However, when pinpoint precision is non-negotiable, UWB’s superior accuracy shines. 

This overview of UWB indoor location tracking and ultra wide band technology underscores the potential of these solutions to revolutionize various industries, from retail to healthcare.

Ready to amp up your location tracking capabilities? Get the precision of UWB and the efficiency of BLE with Mapsted’s advanced indoor navigation technology. Book a free demo today and let our experts guide you. Want to explore further? Read our insightful articles on The Impact of Ultra-Wideband Technology in Indoor Locations and What You Must Know About Bluetooth Beacons Before Purchasing in 2024.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. So is UWB, in the near future, able to replace BLE completely?

Ans. Although UWB is better in terms of accuracy, it seems BLE will not be completely replaced by this tech since BLE has wide adoption till now because of its energy efficiency and cost-efficiency. Both technologies are likely to be complementary across different use cases.

Q2. Basically, in which industries can UWB technology be the most useful?

Ans. For industries that need yet-higher levels of precision, like manufacturing, logistics, healthcare, and retail. They can use it for asset tracking, inventory management, personnel tracking, and a lot more.

Q3. What about UWB – is this feature reserved for flagship phones?

Ans. The iPhone 11 and later were among the first phones to offer UWB, but as we saw with Tile’s new trackers, adoption of those chips is moving downmarket. Since more manufacturers start to embed UWB chips into their devices, it’s likely to be used more widely.

Q4. What are the possible challenges in making UWB and BLE work together?

Ans. So, there are several hidden challenges in making a UWB and BLE coexisting system working together. The major challenge is creating algorithms that blend the data from both technologies seamlessly to provide functionality in the most accurate and efficient hyper-local location tracking. Secondly, attaining compatibility and interoperability of various UWB as well as BLE devices may become a barrier.

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