Low on Power, High on Integration: MKSemi Launches New UWB SoC
Ultra-wideband technology has sharply spiked in popularity since 2019. Now, MKSemi says its new UWB SoC is the smallest and most low power in the industry.
Ultra-wideband (UWB) is a radio technology designed for short-range and high-bandwidth wireless communication. This low-energy protocol began appearing in high-end smartphones in 2019 but has not struck mainstream adoption until recently. UWB has found consolidated support from groups like the Car Connectivity Consortium (members include BMW, GM, Panasonic, Honda, Hyundai, Volkswagen, and others) and the FiRa Consortium (members include the likes of Apple, Bosch, NXP, Samsung, Qualcomm, Cisco, and Qorvo).
Comparison of narrowband, wideband CDMA, and ultra-wideband. Image used courtesy of MKSemi
With the introduction of UWB technology in the iPhone 11, Apple ignited interest and investment in the UWB industry.
Around this same time, a group of silicon valley veterans joined forces to create Mauna Kea Semiconductor (MKSemi): a semiconductor company focused on developing ultra-low-power UWB technology. Today, the company made headlines when it announced a recent funding round amounting to ~13M USD. In the same announcement, MKSemi also introduced its new UWB SoC.
All About Circuits sat down with Yifeng Zhang, CEO at MKSemi, and Thomas Chen, CMO at MKSemi, to hear about the company’s newest chip—which is acclaimed as the “world’s lowest power, highest-integrated chip solution” for coin cell battery-powered IoT.
UWB Technology for Range Measurement
UWB has recently been integrated into consumer electronics as a form of range measurement.
“The goal [of UWB] is high accuracy range measurement,” Zhang explains. “The trick to do this is to have extremely accurate timing: if you measure the roundtrip time of a radio signal and you can measure it accurately, you can get an accurate distance.”
UWB is uniquely suited to do this since the ultra-wide bandwidth allows for the use of extremely-narrow pulse widths in time-of-flight measurements.
UWB offers a unique combination of accuracy, reliability, cost, and more. Image from Kinexeon
Zhang elaborates, saying, “Physics tells us that the wider the bandwidth, the narrower the pulse. If you have a narrow enough pulse, that gives you a fine enough resolution for timing. You can read the time accurately, then you can measure the distance accurately. That's the intuitive thinking for UWB.”
Thanks to this, and other properties of UWB, the technology offers many benefits over competitors like RFID, BLE, or Wi-FI. UWB combines high precision, low power consumption, and fast transmission speeds. It’s for these reasons that the technology has recently found use in applications like Apple’s AirTags, where the extremely high precision of UWB allows for the accurate detection of assets.
MKSemi Unveils MK8000 UWB SoC
Today, MKSemi unveils the release of its new, ultra-low-power UWB SoC.
The company says the new device, the MK8000, is a highly-integrated SoC that combines the UWB radio subsystem and the compute all on-chip, leaving only the antenna design up to the end-user. The MK8000 is based on a 62.4 MHz Arm Cortex-M0 core and includes a unique intelligent signal processor, which MKSemi claims to improve computation efficiency by ten times.
A system-level block diagram of the MK8000. Image used courtesy of MKSemi
MKSemi claims that the new product offers the lowest power consumption on the market by at least double. In addition to its extremely small size, MKSemi also says the device has the widest frequency band of its kind. Published specs reveal that the MK8000 consumes 43 mA at 3 V/RX, achieves data rates up to 54 Mbps, and operates in a frequency band of 3–9 GHz.
Speaking to the secret of maintaining this small area and extremely low power without sacrificing performance, Zhang tells us, “Our design principle is to put as many analog subsystems as possible into the digital domain, since the analog circuits are always the power-hungry parts.”
The device is also said to be the first to include integrated 4 RX with intrinsic 3-D location capability.
A General-purpose UWB SoC for Contact-free Applications
MKSemi has designed the device to be a general-purpose UWB SoC for a variety of unique applications, including ticket validation, asset tracking, tap-free mobile payments, and residential and automotive access control, among many others.
As but one example, at CES this week, MKSemi will be demonstrating a reference design that features Infineon's PSOC63 Bluetooth LE MCU and the MK8000—the latter of which includes UWB ranging capability.
UWB ranging can be used to unlock a car door when approaching (left) and enable engine start when inside (right). Image used courtesy of MKSemi
This UWB can be used to determine the device's distance to a car, unlock the car upon approach, and turn on the engine when inside the car.