Dear Colleagues,

Are you as frustrated as I am with the bewildering collection of communication and power cables between electronic equipment and computers around your office and home? Something we engineering professionals have to contend with as computer-based technology is a key part of our lives. Although I notice now that my 15yo teenage son has dispensed with all cables with his wireless headset (after breaking the cables for the umpteenth time).

A solution to this issue of eliminating the thicket of cables will impact on everyone – from the child to the PhD working on high speed data communications in her lab.

Well; a solution (inevitably) is rapidly coming into view. With incredibly high speed radio communications harnessing the 60Giga herz (GHz) spectrum. Oddly enough another issue driving a solution is that the (mainly copper) cables simply can’t keep up with the increasing demands made for more and more data at higher speeds (high resolution and rich multimedia files).

Fast Becoming History?
The HDMI (hi-definition multimedia interface) cable has been used to date for cables for transferring pictures and audio between digital recorders and video game recorders to TVs and computer monitors. Wi-Fi has steadily replaced USB cables for connecting computers to printers, keyboards and mice.

Although that workhorse of the office and shopfloor - Ethernet – the tough old bird she is – is affordable and can easily zoom from 1Gigabit to 100 Gigabit. So this is unlikely to be replaced easily.

60GHz Coming Up …Fast
The solution lies in the frequency range  in the EHF (Extremely high frequency – 30GHz to 300 GHz) band of the spectrum. It is totally unexploited because it has been considered worthless. The main reason why it has not been used is that oxygen molecules resonate at 60GHz and water vapour (rain and high humidity) absorbs at this frequency.  Line-of-sight between transmitter and receiver is thus essential.

Health Hazards
I have this uneasy feeling that there are some health hazards with all this radiation. But no evidence as yet. Oxygen can be a pretty dangerous substance to excite with radiation.

Practical Issues
As the wavelength of 60GHz is 5mm (c = frequency x wavelength), the antenna can be quite tiny and thus embedded in the chip. Two wireless technologies look like bringing the bacon home as far as applying this frequency to creating a wireless office. WirelessHD and WiGig (the latter from the IEEE entitled 802.11ad). Both standards transmit at 7Gigabit/s (peaking at 30Gigabit/s) – many times faster than the Wifi networking. A pencil thin beam is used to transmit the data – thus avoiding any hackers (as with Wifi).

Without a doubt, this new technology promises to make as big an impact on communication as Wifi did a decade or so ago. Now the only thing to work on is transmitting power wirelessly.

Thanks to the Economist for a great article on the topic of WiGig.

This new wireless technology echos Arthur C.Clarke's comment: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Yours in engineering learning,

Steve