Ultra-Wideband and Hospitality: an Introduction & Game Changer

INTRODUCTION

In the last few weeks, Apple released their new Apple AirTags as a new small disc-shaped tracking gadget that can be attached to house keys and other everyday items to help you find them. Now you must be thinking, why would this matter to us? How could this revolutionise hospitality or Quick Service Restaurants (QSR)? How is the technology different from the existing Tile product that also allows you to find your keys?

As mentioned by Brian X. Chen from the New York Times[1] the AirTag which Apple introduced last week, is the first consumer electronics product to use the Ultra-Wideband (UWB) radio system. Its unique application gives you precise proximity between objects and directions to the object. This means you can track your tag in a building and know its relative direction or distance to your location.

Here is where it becomes interesting. As the Internet of things (IoT) or connectivity between devices compatible with the new technology allows the connectivity to go beyond Bluetooth.  Its superior capability at finding things is worth talking about it as this will become the standard in the next generation of tech in the IoT world. We see many areas where this will have a transformative aspect to hospitality.

A Brief History

UWB is not a new concept. It has been around for the last 20 years but primarily used in the military rescue and medical fields. The technology from its origins can handle positioning, has excellent data transfer capabilities, and it is much more secure which means it is not easily hacked.

The significant change came with introducing this technology by Apple in 2019. Apple started putting it in the iPhone 11 series and the Apple Watch series 6, and now the AirTag. Of course, Samsung would not fall behind. They have also started supporting the new technology in 2021 with their new phones, the Galaxy S20 and S21.

What is Different Between UWB and Bluetooth

The biggest difference is how they transmit information. Bluetooth is constantly transmitting multi-directional. It can only tell you that there is something close but can’t tell you about positioning or distance. Bluetooth also consumes more energy and needs to be activated on usage. This has been one of the main obstacles for the adoption of keyless hotel entry using Bluetooth indoors. Meanwhile UWB can tell you more about the relative position within an accuracy of a centimetre. It’s also significantly more energy-efficient. This means that it can be left on while having minimal impact on battery life and only transmits signals periodically, like a sonar, rather than continuously.

How will this Technology Help Hospitality?

We believe that UWB will be a key innovation that will allow hospitality further remove friction. Such as the idea of optimising the performance of your housekeeping teams. By understanding the location and timing of your team while on the floors will enable you to build data. This allows you to understand the trends and timeframes to better direct the team during daily operations.

Service Location Optimisation

Take the case of a simple request from a guest for fresh towels to be delivered to their room. The new system will lead you to identify the closest team member available using AI algorithms. It also optimises the message to the team members according to the preset responsibilities and capabilities. If a member of the housekeeping team responds, they most likely will already have towel stock on hand. Otherwise the platform may direct the team member, say from guest relations, to the closest linen closet to collect the supplies before fulfilling the request. All this will be completed intuitively and seamlessly. By locating the closest team member, you cut waiting times resulting in increased guest satisfaction. Furthermore, it helps multi-skill your team members to perform tasks across a range of roles.

Keyless Entry

Additionally, we see future opportunities in using UWB in door locks for keyless entry. This technology will improve the way keyless systems work today by being more secure and at a fraction of the cost of a Bluetooth based system. By allowing you to carry your key in your phone without turning on or off Bluetooth will reduce customer friction and make things more seamless. 

Service Robotics

Lastly, this technology will allow room service robots to finally be more efficient in delivering food, especially during the night when you run a skeletal staff. Thus improving the economics of door to door delivery that Bluetooth never managed to achieve as it requires to be consistently switched on and is expensive to install.

NEW FRONTIERS

There is still a lot to be discovered and we wait with excitement and anticipation on how different hospitality suppliers will adapt to this technology. We are all waiting for Apple to fully disclose their entire strategy for UWB as this will become the roadmap for everyone else, knowing that Apple already has 35% of the 5G market share with the dominating position, and UWB is poised to be the future of their core functionality.

HostQ is constantly reviewing all the new technologies which will affect the hospitality, QSR and retail industries.  To unlock the potential of using the data and information to help businesses find better ways to serve their guest and optimise their operations.

Image courtesy of Jonas Elia

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