Digital car keys could finally get safer and more popular soon – here’s why

Published in TechRadar on November 17, 2023.

Apple-led consortium plans new standards for ultra-wideband

Keyless car theft is rampant in both Europe and the United States, but a new Apple-led consortium is planning to make digital car keys safer and more popular by creating some new industry standards for ultra-wideband connectivity (UWB).

As reported by The Verge, the new group is a combination of two powerful consortiums and brings together most of the major players in the smartphone and automotive worlds.

The aim of this new group (unfortunately called the Joint Ultra-wide band (UWB) MAC PHY Working Group, or JUMPWG) is to thrash out some improved standards and best practices for digital car keys. A current lack of best practices means that some automakers use NFC alone, while others pair it with low energy Bluetooth and ultra-wideband connectivity (UWB).

This has contributed to some pretty widespread security issues. UK vehicle recovery specialist Tracker recently stated that 94 per cent of all the vehicles it recovered in 2022 were stolen using relay technology. Car thefts in the USA also increased to over one million in 2022, up from 937,976 in 2021, according to Forbes, and you’ve likely heard about the nightmare that Kia and Hyundai are having with spiraling car theft numbers.

Many automakers – and smartphone companies – still believe a phone-based key is a convenient way forward, so this new consortium could soon see digital car key adoption become safer and easier to use. Spearheaded by Jinjing Jiang, a wireless systems engineer at Apple, the group brings together the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) and FiRa Consortium to discuss create the new standards.

The former is a well-established group of engineers from Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, and thinkers from most major car companies, while the latter is a nonprofit organisation that supports UWB and includes companies such as Apple, Google, Cisco, Samsung, Qualcomm and more.

This group will apparently “ensure long-term interoperability and scalability of the advanced UWB technology developed for the CCC Digital Key, encouraging broader adoption of UWB technology for secure and accurate ranging for vehicle access,” CCC president Alysia Johnson said in a statement, according to The Verge.

The idea is simple: get carmakers and technology providers around a table to develop safe and reliable digital keys for the future.

Read the full article from TechRadar here