BMW's ‘Digital Key Plus' With Ultra-Wideband Technology is Coming to the Electric iX SUV

BMW's ‘Digital Key Plus' With Ultra-Wideband Technology is Coming to the Electric iX SUV

Author: FutureCar Staff    

Traditional car keys are becoming a thing of the past. With modern vehicles packed with technology, turning a metal key to start or unlock a vehicle seems dated.

Most automakers today are offering radio-frequency identification keyfobs (RFID key), which are matched to the vehicle. The key fob sends a signal to the vehicle, which checks if it's the correct one for that particular vehicle. Once verified as a match, the vehicle can be unlocked and started.

Although new RFID key fobs are a big step forward and most don't use traditional metal keys, there is still room to improve upon the technology for additional security, which is what German automaker did for the upcoming iX, its first fully-electric SUV. 

BMW announced this week that its new Digital Key Plus which uses ultra-wideband (UWB) technology will launch with the upcoming BMW iX for the Apple iPhone. It replaces the common RFID key fob.

The UWB technology is also found in the U1 chip in Apple's newer iPhone and provides a secure way to use it to access the BMW iX. Apple's U1 chip also supports ultra-wideband positioning, so the BMW iX and iPhone have the ability to determine each other's precise location once they are in close proximity.

The Digital Key Plus offers a convenient and secure way to unlock and start a vehicle using an iPhone. With ultra-wideband technology, a driver won't have to hold up their mobile phone directly in front of the door handle to unlock the car, instead they can just leave it in their pocket or bag. It uses a chip so the vehicle can be unlocked one a driver approaches even if the iPhone is switched off. 

Traditional RFID key fobs use multiple low frequency radio technologies that are not used in smartphones due to their added complexity and cost. Instead the commands such as unlocking the doors remotely are relayed using cloud-based servers from the companion app for the vehicle that's offered by the vehicle manufacturer. However this method is less secure and can be hacked, so BMW's Digital Key Plus has advantages.

UWB technology is a short-range, high-bandwidth digital radio technology that offers extremely extremely precise localization along with the highest level of security. UWB technology is so precise that it prevents RFID relay attacks, where hackers spoof the radio signal to enter or start the vehicle using inexpensive hardware.

BMW was one of the first automakers to allow customers to use a smartphone as a digital vehicle key in 2018.

Both BMW and Apple are working closely with the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) to establish the Digital Key specification 3.0 for UWB. The CCC is a cross-industry organization advancing global technologies for smartphone-to-car connectivity solutions. The organization seeks to establish a global standard for the automotive industry and automakers around the world. 

Standard specifications across industries will allow different brands of vehicles and smart devices, such as smartwatches and other wearables, to communicate with each other and to nearby devices.

The CCC Digital Key version 2.0, which was finalized in May 2020, is a standardized ecosystem that enables mobile devices to store, authenticate, and share Digital Keys for vehicles securely. 

BMW's Digital Key technology works everywhere, even if there is no cellular network connection. The latest Digital Key specification (version 3.0) is currently under development. 

The electric BMW iX with Digital Key Plus will launch in early 2022 in the U.S.

FutureCar Staff
FutureCar Staff
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