Expanding Communications?

In something of an annual August tradition, I’ll review some interesting tech news items about various subjects I’ve blogged about before.  This will be the first of a couple of posts and will focus on some of the developments that are expanding bandwidth both in capacity and in coverage.

Considering basic physics, there are theoretical limits to how much data can be sent over the air.  That has led many people, myself included, to think that wireless data would not be sufficient for the video and other high bandwidth applications that people have come to expect.  But the wireless phone companies have successfully increased their capacity for users over the last few years. 

And various technologists are developing even greater speeds for electronic communications.

A couple months ago, the Chinese company, Huawei has announced that it demonstrated in a lab, Wi-Fi with a 10 Gbps data transfer rate.   See

http://www.huawei.com/ilink/en/about-huawei/newsroom/press-release/HW_341651

And a few weeks ago, scientists at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU Fotonik) reached speeds of 43 terabits per second with a single laser, which beat the previous world-record of 26 terabits per second set at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany).  See more at http://www.dtu.dk/english/News/2014/07/Verdensrekord-i-dataoverfoersel-paa-danske-haender-igen

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They describe the significance of this achievement this way:

“The worldwide competition in data speed is contributing to developing the technology intended to accommodate the immense growth of data traffic on the internet, which is estimated to be growing by 40–50 per cent annually.

“What is more, emissions linked to the total energy consumption of the internet as a whole currently correspond to more than two per cent of the global man-made carbon emissions—which puts the internet on a par with the transport industry (aircraft, shipping etc.).

“However, these other industries are not growing by 40 per cent a year. It is therefore essential to identify solutions for the internet that make significant reductions in energy consumption while simultaneously expanding the bandwidth.

“This is precisely what the DTU team has demonstrated with its latest world record. DTU researchers have previously helped achieve the highest combined data transmission speed in the world—an incredible 1 petabit per second—although this involved using hundreds of lasers.”

While the speed limit of communications is dramatically expanding, there are, of course, many people in the world that still need basic broadband – even in rural areas of developed nations or anywhere that has been struck by a natural disaster which destroys the established communications network.  One of the ideas that I’ve suggested to them is the use of weather balloons and similar, flexible “instant” towers that go up much faster and cost considerably less than building traditional radio towers.

There was a twist to this idea in an announcement from the National Science Foundation a few weeks ago (http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=132161&org=NSF ):

“Yan Wan from the University of North Texas exhibited unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) she developed that are capable of providing wireless communications to storm-ravaged areas where telephone access is out.

“Typical wireless communications have a range limit of only a hundred meters, or about the length of a football field. However, using technology Wan and her colleagues developed, Wan was able to extend the Wi-Fi reach of drones to five kilometers, or a little more than three miles.”

The implications of this ever expanding communications capability are only beginning to be explored.  As an example, the NSF also noted:

“One day, Wan’s research will enable drone-to-drone and flight-to-flight communications, improving air traffic safety, coordination and efficiency.”

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© 2014 Norman Jacknis

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