Researchers Improve Wireless Technology

    Rebekah Hwang/Guardian

    You may not be able to afford an iPad just yet, but you might want to start saving up for the next version, because researchers are developing technology that will transmit viral videos like those on YouTube at higher speeds and qualities than ever before.

    Combining silicon chip technology with the latest wireless communication tools, researchers at the Radio Frequency Integrated Circuits group are testing the limits of the amount of data that can be transmitted wirelessly — at a speed faster than your laptop’s current network connection.

    “We’re all sort of pushing to help deliver next generation wireless services to smartphones, notebooks, iPads and more,” electrical-engineering professor Lawrence Larson said.

    Larson has been teaming up with fellow electrical-engineering professors Peter Asbeck, James Buckwalter and Gabriel Rebeiz for the past decade to study the evolving technology of wireless data transfer.

    “We’ve been working on it for 10 years, and will be working on it for the next 100, I’m sure,” Larson said. “Communications is kind of an insatiable human need, and that’s not going to be satisfied any time soon.”

    The work of Larson and his colleagues is primarily focused on video transmission, which requires sending significantly more data through the air than sound or text alone.

    “In order to transmit video to a wireless device, you have to be able to transmit lots and lots and lots of bits very, very quickly over the air,” Larson said. “It’s kind of like a greater order of magnitude than any other application — more than e-mail, more than voice. Video is a dramatic increase. What we have to do is go to higher frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum.”

    While television signals travel at about 500 MHz and cell phone signals travel at about 2,000 MHz, Larson and his team are developing chips that can handle signals ranging from 20,000 to 60,000 MHz.

    “It’s really because video has this amazing requirement of data rate bits per second, we have to go [to] these higher frequencies,” Larson said.

    Larson said the main challenge his team faces in their research is developing hardware capable of operating at such high frequencies while still maintaining the precision and accuracy necessary to produce a quality video or transmission.

    In order to test the different chip prototypes, researchers monitor the quality and speed of each transmission.

    “We have test equipment that generates the exact type of signals that might be received wirelessly or the types of signals you might want to transmit wirelessly,” Larson said. “Then we measure our devices and see how well they do against the specifications that are needed in order to work well. It’s the same kind of test equipment that people in industry use to test high-speed wireless equipment.”

    Larson said that, eventually, all consumer products will feature wireless communication capabilities.

    “The number of devices [that can communicate wirelessly] is really kind of limited,” he said.

    “In the future, I think that the theory is that almost every manufactured object on the planet will have the ability to communicate wirelessly — so books, and packaged food and clothing and appliances and everything on earth that is manufactured will be able to wirelessly connect to the Internet.”

    Larson said the continued development of wireless technology — specifically, by firms located in California — will allow the state to maintain a technological edge in the U.S. “We really feel that this kind of work is part of the creativity that will spawn new jobs and new startup companies, and new opportunities for wireless devices,” Larson said. “Hopefully one of the big implications of our research is that this will help California maintain its high-tech lead in the wireless industry on a worldwide basis.”

    Readers can contact Ayelet Bitton at [email protected].

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