People often say: "Apple doesn't need to do consumer research at all." This is the best compliment to Apple's insistence on disruptive technological innovation to lead consumer demand. In April 2021, Apple's AirTag was officially released. It has built-in Apple's self-developed U1 chip, and uses ultra-wideband precise positioning technology (UWB) technology to achieve high-precision positioning and tracking, especially for indoor environment positioning. The price starts at 229 yuan.
Figure 1. Apple AirTag product introductionSource: Apple official website Friends who are familiar with Apple products should have already known that in 2019, Apple built UWB technology into the iPhone 11 series of mobile phones through the U1 chip. At the press conference at that time, Phil Schiller, Apple's marketing director, described the U1 chip as "using UWB technology to realize space Sensing", able to pinpoint other Apple devices that also have the U1 chip. It was with the release of the U1 chip that Apple brought UWB technology into the public eye. In 2020, both Samsung and Xiaomi released solutions based on UWB technology. Figure 2. Xiaomi "One Finger Link" displaySource: Xiaomi official website
AirTag has once again set off a hot spot for UWB technology. Many industry insiders believe that AirTag is expected to become the next disruptive product that affects the IoT (Internet of Things) industry. However, it has been more than 3 months since the release of the new product, and we seem to find that AirTag has not become a hit like the previous TWS earphones, and there are very few people who buy Airtag around. The UWB solutions launched by major manufacturers such as Samsung and Xiaomi have not yet really entered our daily life. Why is the ability of big manufacturers such as Apple to carry goods magically no longer? What is the charm of UWB technology? In what scenarios are applications just needed? Where will the commercialization of UWB end? This article will discuss UWB's path from technology to mature commercialization.
The technical principle and industrial chain of UWB
UWB is a wireless carrier communication technology that uses nanosecond non-sinusoidal narrow pulses to transmit data. The narrow pulses are very wide in the frequency domain, so it is called ultra-wideband. Because the UWB time-domain signal pulse is narrow, it has greater resolution in time and space, and it is easier to resist the influence of the common multipath effect of indoor signal transmission, so the ranging and positioning accuracy is high. Figure 3. UWB is a wireless carrier communication technologySource: Internet The positioning principle of UWB is very similar to satellite positioning. By arranging a positioning base station with known coordinates, the person or object that needs to be positioned carries a positioning tag. The tag sends pulses according to a certain frequency, and continuously measures the distance with the base station with a known position. The software system The position of the label can be determined through the algorithm, and the accuracy can be as high as about 10cm. Figure 4. The positioning principle of UWBSource: Internet Early UWB technical research was mainly used to solve the problem of short-distance, high-speed transmission. However, due to the slow promotion of related standards, the short-distance high-speed communication market has been occupied by Wi-Fi. The UWB technology, which was unsatisfactory in the short-distance communication market, was discovered by the market in the field of high-precision positioning. The following is a comparison of several mainstream positioning technologies. UWB has high positioning accuracy, can transmit data, and has high security. However, compared with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, RFID, etc., the price of positioning base stations and positioning tags is more than 10 times. The price gap has led to the high overall construction and use costs. Table 1. Comparison of mainstream positioning technologiesSource: Collation of public information
In the UWB industry chain (as shown in the figure below), the most core product is the UWB chip. In addition to Apple, there is only Decawve in the world (sold to Qorvo for $400 million in 2020) with stable supply. In 2018, Decewave’s revenue was 300 million RMB and its net profit was about 100 million RMB. Although another chip design giant NXP has also begun to get involved in the field of UWB chips, from the current competitive landscape, there is no trend of price reduction on the chip side, and the prices of UWB and base stations will remain high.
Figure 5. UWB industry chainSource: IoT Media Figure 6. Status and trend of UWB hardware pricesSource: IoT Media
Rigid application scenarios of UWB technology
For the commercialization process of UWB technology at this stage, we believe that the value generated by UWB's indoor positioning and high-precision positioning can cover its high cost, so it can be the first to land in scenarios with strong rigid needs, such as coal mines and application in animal husbandry.
Coal mining field
Huawei announced the launch of the country's first 5G smart coal mine project in 2020, and the coal mine has also become a sweet spot for a while, and the company invested by Rongyi, Keda Automation, is also Huawei's important partner in the smart coal mine solution.
To build a smart mine, there are many aspects involved, such as video surveillance, automation equipment and positioning systems in the mining area. Coal mines have strong management requirements for personnel safety, and personnel positioning systems have always been an important part of smart coal mines.
In 2020, the National Coal Mine Safety Supervision Bureau organized the National Safety Standards Committee to compile the "General Technical Conditions of Coal Mine Underground Personnel Positioning System (Draft for Comment)", which contains an indicator: "The maximum static positioning error of the precise positioning system for underground personnel in coal mines should not be greater than 0.3m”. Among the mainstream wireless positioning technologies on the market, only UWB can achieve this accuracy. Prior to this, UWB had also entered the coal mining field, but was not widely promoted due to cost constraints. With the formulation of strong national standards, the UWB solution is expected to achieve rapid penetration.
At present, there are about 4,000 coal mines of a certain scale in the country. The average demand for UWB base stations in each coal mine is about 100. From this, it can be estimated that the total demand for coal mine base stations is about 400,000, and the total number of coal miners is about 4.5 million. According to one tag per person, the demand for UWB tags is about 4.5 million.
UWB is more imaginative in the field of animal husbandry. Taking the most typical pig breeding industry as an example, since 2018, the outbreak of African swine fever has severely damaged pig production, and the direct economic loss has reached billions of yuan. It will not be relieved until mid-2021. There is a strong need. The existing technical means is to realize the identification of live pigs through RFID technology. By installing electronic tags on the pigs, one-to-one matching with the pigs is carried out according to the unique ID code of the electronic tags, and the animals can be tracked and managed anytime and anywhere.
However, RFID technology cannot achieve two-way communication. Only when the animal enters the recognition range of the RFID reader, or when the breeder holds the terminal reader close to the animal, the reader can identify the relevant information of the animal.
It is precisely because of the natural insufficiency of RFID recognition that "pig face recognition" technology became popular a few years ago. , you can get the pig's number, pig's parents, breed and other information. Although pig face recognition can collect the graphic information of pigs, it cannot accurately locate the pig's body status and position information. We imagine such a scenario - if there are a few swine fever outbreaks in a large-scale pig farm (generally more than 10,000 pigs), how can we find and isolate them in the first place? Among the existing technologies, UWB technology is the most effective means. The UWB+ temperature sensor is made into a label, which replaces the RIFD label and is implanted in the ear or neck of the pig, which can monitor the status of the pig in real time and quickly locate the classical pig. Industry insiders estimate that the cost of pig face recognition is about 50 yuan per pig, while the traditional RFID pig ear tag only costs about 1.5-2 yuan. When the cost of UWB + temperature sensor tags drops to less than 20 yuan, the solution is expected to achieve rapid penetration. At present, the number of live pigs in my country is 350 million per year, and the number of beef cattle is close to 100 million per year. For the application of UWB, animal husbandry is a huge potential market. The application of UWB in the above two fields maximizes its advantages in indoor and high-precision positioning, and is strongly driven by policies and demands.
The commercialization end of UWB
Let's go back to the AirTag product. Some evaluation reports show that the AirTag's anti-loss function is not omnipotent. For example, in complex environments such as water, there are often cases of signal loss. How to improve the positioning accuracy of AirTag? Is there a strong need for the function of just finding simple objects? How many people can accept the price of 229 yuan? These problems may be the reason why most consumers are discouraged. As for the finality of the commercialization of UWB technology, we believe that the commercialization of UWB technology should ultimately focus on the field of personal consumption. 1. With the application of UWB in the industry, the prices of chips, sticky notes, and base stations continue to decline, and the number of base station points continues to increase. Label products such as AirTag have dropped to less than 50 yuan, and consumers' acceptance will increase. . On the other hand, in addition to carriers such as mobile phones and tags, UWB can also be deeply integrated with other carriers. For example, UWB can be combined with service robots. In a more complex indoor environment, after locking the position of an object, it can also integrate Taking the object over will further magnify the value of the thing you are looking for. Thinking about it in this way, it may stimulate consumers' desire to buy.
Second, the application of UWB in data transmission can not be ignored. It is also mentioned above that UWB was used as a short-distance high-speed wireless transmission communication technology in the early days of its birth. It has many advantages, such as strong performance, high transmission rate, extremely wide bandwidth, low power consumption, and low transmission power. The emergence of UWB complements the increasingly complex personal area network communication needs. With the rise of wearable devices such as Apple Watch and AirPods, AR, VR, and short video social networking, users have an increasing demand for interconnection between different devices. Different from computer local area network, there are great differences between devices in personal area network, and there are different requirements in terms of transmission speed, transmission distance, power consumption, and security. UWB technology is expected to gain a new life in personal area network communication.
For the layout of the UWB track, we recommend focusing on upstream UWB chip design companies and system integrators that already have industry status.
1. The chip is the most important and basic component of UWB technology. Whether it is a tag or a base station, it is inseparable from the chip. With a "leading brother" like Apple leading the development of the industry, UWB has a great opportunity to become the standard configuration of mobile phones like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in the future. To meet the needs of industry applications and consumption, UWB will rapidly grow into a track worth tens of billions of yuan per year.
2. In terms of UWB chip design technology, in the short term, focus on whether the chip supports the 4Z protocol, whether it supports high-rate pulse and low-rate pulse dual modes, whether it is used in high-frequency and low-frequency bands, and whether it is integrated with Bluetooth; in the long run, consider Low-power, low-cost design solutions such as low power consumption, small area, fast startup and fast lock.
3. Judging from the current competitive landscape, Decawave, a subsidiary of the US RF giant Qorvo, occupies more than 95% of the market share. NXP has also sacrificed its technology accumulation many years ago to quickly launch new products. Domestic UWB chip design companies are also catching up quickly. We are delighted to see that a number of excellent start-ups have emerged in the industry, and they are also active in the capital market. In recent years, they have received important capital support.
Fourth, system integration is also an important link in the UWB industry chain. Technically, system integrators can provide solutions that integrate UWB with GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and other positioning technologies; in terms of business models, system integrators are closer to customers and can better understand customer needs. System integrators with a certain industry status often have strong revenue scale and financial strength. To sum up, the UWB industry will eventually run an independent track of tens of billions. The design level gap between domestic UWB chip companies and foreign companies is only within one generation, and China has a strong consumer electronics supply chain, huge market demand, and engineer dividends. We are very optimistic about the birth of a number of world-leading companies in the direction of UWB in China, and will continue to cultivate this track and look for layout opportunities.
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