NXP Introduces New Ultra Wideband Chip for Cars

Dec. 6, 2019
The ultra wideband IC can be slapped on cars to figure out the location of key fobs or smartphones doubling as digital keys. Ultra wideband radios can work out the coordinates of each other—for instance, a smartphone and a car—by timing the signals traveling between them.

NXP Semiconductors, the world's largest vendor of chips for cars, introduced its latest line of chips capable of replacing physical key fobs with smartphones, looking to bolster its position in ultra wideband technology. The short range wireless chips can be used in cars to control the start button and door locks using smartphones instead of key fobs, NXP said.

NXP said the NCJ29D5 is designed for the demands of the global car market. The ultra wideband IC can be slapped on cars to figure out the location of key fobs or smartphones doubling as digital keys. Ultra wideband systems can work out the coordinates of each other—for instance, a smartphone and a car—by timing the short radio signals bouncing between them. Think of it like GPS on a much smaller scale.

Ultra wideband devices can determine the distance to each other 10 times more accurately than Bluetooth and WiFi, NXP said. The connected cars of the future could also use ultra wideband to unlock themselves when you get close to the doors and start when you sit behind the wheel, without removing keys from your pocket or bag. The doors could also one day lock themselves once you start walking away from the car, NXP said.

NXP is trying to transform the short range radio technology into a global standard rivaling the scale of WiFi and Bluetooth. The company has started selling its first ultra wideband chip for smartphones ahead of products rolling out in the second half of 2020. Samsung, Huawei and Apple—the world's largest smartphone makers with more than 45% of the total market—worked with NXP and others on the formal standard for ultra wideband.

Rick Clemmer, NXP's chief executive officer, said that the market for ultra wideband chips would grow to $900 million by 2024. NXP's vice president of mobile transactions, Charles Dachs, estimated that more than 50% of smartphones sold by 2024 could be shipped with ultra-wideband chips. Apple also introduced an ultra wideband system to its latest line of iPhones, in what industry analysts called game changing for the standard's future.

NXP has partnered with major players in the global market including parts vendors Robert Bosch, Continental and Denso; car manufacturers General Motors, Volkswagen and Audi; and electronics giants Apple, Samsung and LG to set common standards for using smartphones as car keys. The series of standards, called Digital Key, would allow drivers to download the car keys to their phones and then use ultra wideband to interface with cars.

Major car manufacturers including Ford and GM enable users to unlock and remotely start the car with smartphones, which tend to communicate using the car's onboard Bluetooth and WiFi. Others use near field communications, or NFC, in smartphone-as-key systems. NXP said the world's top car manufacturer, Volkswagen, would use ultra wideband in key fobs starting in 2019. NXP said ultra wideband ICs are more secure than Bluetooth and WiFi.

A major advantage of ultra wideband is that it combats electronic theft, NXP said. The problem with smartphones that double as digital keys is that the Bluetooth and WiFi signals used to unlock the car can be intercepted and cloned by criminals with inexpensive radio equipment. Concluding that the key is nearby, the system unlocks the car even though the actual key is out of range. Ultra wideband can protect against these relay attacks, NXP said. 

Ultra wideband works sort of like radar. The short range radio systems locate each other by broadcasting billions of signals in a short span, then figuring out the time of flight of the radio signal. With keys based on ultra wideband, any attempt to intercept the smartphone's signal would delay the return signal from the car, keeping the doors closed and the trunk locked. The ultra wideband technology also has the benefit of being low power, NXP said.

Ultra wideband can also pinpoint coordinates with significantly shorter delays than WiFi and Bluetooth. While it can take seconds or more for cars to respond to remote commands from smartphones, ultra wideband is a thousand times faster than Bluetooth, NXP said. The technology's frequency range spans 500 MHz, while Wi-Fi channels range from 20 MHz to 40 MHz wide. Bluetooth broadcasts on channels that range from 1 MHz to 2 MHz.

The new chip could also be used to develop garage doors that open when the car get close to them and automated payment systems at tolls. NXP has also demonstrated a system that uses ultra wideband radios to disable the passenger airbag when a child's car seat is installed. “The opportunities that exist in the web of mobility and automotive are vast," said Markus Staeblein, general manager of secure car access at NXP, in a statement.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Supply Chain Connect, create an account today!