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The Vital Role of RF Technology During a Pandemic

The Vital Role of RF Technology During a Pandemic

by Eric Creviston, President, Qorvo Mobile Products

Life has certainly changed for all of us in the past few months. In the age of COVID-19, we are staying distant from each other, from our workplaces and from all but essential activities. The one thing we are closer to these days is our electronic devices and the wireless technology that connects all of us, no matter where we are.

That connectivity, enabled by RF technology, is making it possible for us to isolate and work from home safely, to visit with our families and friends on screen, and have food delivered to our doorstep. It is allowing a new, untethered version of life and work to emerge as we rapidly adapt to the pandemic’s global disruption. 

For decades, Qorvo has pioneered the development of RF technologies for applications such as Global Positioning System (GPS), Bluetooth®, Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi), 5G and now, Ultra-Wideband (UWB)—integral parts of our lives today. 

It would be difficult to overstate the role of RF innovation in the last decade in our ability to more safely respond to the pandemic. Advances in RF have made 5G cellular communications possible, delivering the speed, power and bandwidth required for a world ubiquitously sending and receiving information. Prior generations of cellular technology could not have kept pace with this insatiable demand. 

RF technology is also enabling and expanding Wi-Fi connectivity and advancing the Internet of Things (IoT). It does so by eliminating signal interference, extending range and enhancing network security—all essential capabilities for working and living remotely and securely. 

Even during a pandemic, it is not possible for everyone to operate remotely. For those of us who do have to leave our homes for work or for other essential activities, UWB RF technology has the potential to become a digital solution to help fight COVID-19 and future viruses. 

UWB is centimeter-accurate and ultra-reliable. It also has fast transmission speeds and very low latency. This makes it ideal for localizing objects and people in real time and implementing effective contact tracing—a cornerstone of preventing the spread of infectious disease.

Unlike technologies such as Bluetooth® and Wi-Fi, which are being re-tooled for this new purpose, the physical properties of the UWB RF signal were specifically defined from the start to achieve real-time, ultra-accurate, ultra-reliable location and communication. 

UWB can be used both indoors and outdoors, because it doesn’t rely on satellites. No expensive infrastructure is required. Instead, devices with UWB technology communicate with each other directly to determine location and distance. They do so by measuring the time that it takes signal pulses to travel between devices, which can be calculated based on the time-of-flight of each transmitted pulse. UWB technology can be implemented in different ways based on the target application needs—Two Way Ranging, Time Difference of Arrival (TDoA), or Phase Difference of Arrival (PDoA).

Besides enabling two UWB devices to determine the distance between them, this method can also be used to accurately determine a device’s location by comparing the signals from several different UWB access points. 

The precision with which one can locate anything is inversely proportional to the bandwidth of the signal being used, and UWB signals use roughly 500 MHz of bandwidth. This is many times wider than other technologies used for location sensing. That enables UWB to achieve centimeter precision, which is critical for many applications.

This level of accuracy makes UWB an extremely good fit for COVID-19 contact tracing and social distancing apps that are being developed in many countries to help prevent the continuing spread of the pandemic. These apps are usually voluntary and anonymous, and one can choose to opt in or out of sharing data.

For example, UWB can help make factories, offices and nursing homes safer for employees, customers and residents by providing real-time information about potential contact with someone who has COVID-19, their proximity and the duration of the contact. UWB also ensures accurate proactive social distancing detection, which can be reported with visual or audible warnings. 

Critical to any information-sharing app is data encryption and overall security. UWB’s ability to very precisely measure location ensures users that they can be sure of where a signal comes from within centimeters. This capability also makes UWB ideal for financial applications such as wireless payment transfers, which are often limited in amount due to concerns about the security of the transaction. This enhanced functionality will support a cashless society, further limiting the spread of deadly pathogens through contact.

Other key benefits of UWB include low power consumption—it can run off a single-cell battery for years—low cost, and its immunity to interference from other signals.

In this time of unprecedented disruption, RF technology is helping us to find a way through the pandemic. Wireless communications are allowing us to work even as we stay socially distant. UWB is giving us the real-time precision, range and low latency we need to stay safe in our new world.