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Prof thinks he's solved wireless transfer puzzle

Huge files are sent short distances via extremely high-frequency radio.

September 04, 2007|From the Associated Press

ATLANTA — With a wave of his hand over a homemade receiver, Georgia Tech professor Joy Laskar shows how easily -- and quickly -- large data files may someday be transferred from a portable media player to a TV.

Poof! "You just moved a movie onto your device," Laskar said.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have emerged as efficient ways to zap small amounts of data between gadgets, but neither is well suited for quickly transferring high-definition video, large audio libraries and other massive files.

Laskar and other scientists at the Georgia Electronic Design Center have turned to extremely high radio frequencies to transfer huge data files over short distances.

The high frequencies -- which use the 60-gigahertz band -- have been a mostly untapped resource. Researchers say it could one day become the conventional wireless way to zap data over short distances.

Laskar hopes it can soon become a rival to other wireless technologies. Getting government permission to use the spectrum would not be a problem, since that radio band, much like the one used for Wi-Fi, is unlicensed. Because the range will probably be less than 33 feet, interference is less likely and transmissions can be more secure.

A similar short-range technology, known as ultra-wideband (UWB), is just now reaching the market after several years of wrangling between different companies and engineering bodies. It exploits another unlicensed band, reaching up to 10.3 GHz. Last month, Toshiba Corp. introduced laptops with built-in UWB chips that can communicate wirelessly with a docking station. Other possible uses include transmission of high-definition video.

But the maximum current speed of UWB is about 480 megabits per second, equivalent to a high-speed computer cable but possibly not enough for all applications. Use of the 60-GHz band promises much higher speeds.

"There will be a constant pressure for speed and it will never cease," said M. Kursat Kimyacioglu, director of strategy and wireless business development at the semiconductor subsidiary of Philips Electronics. "We need much faster wireless data networking technologies to make much faster downloads and backups and higher resolution [high-definition] video streaming possible."

He said Philips was looking at using the technology to eliminate cable bundles, but much more research would be needed. The signals don't penetrate walls very well and are too easily disturbed by passing people and pets, Kimyacioglu said.

The research is far from over, Laskar says, but he hopes those challenges can be overcome in the next year or so.

His team has already achieved wireless transfer rates of 15 gigabits per second from a distance of one meter. That would mean a download time of less than five seconds for a DVD-quality copy of a feature film.

Specialized radios have been sending and receiving high-frequency signals for years, but they're big and can cost tens of thousands of dollars. The Georgia center's challenge has been to convert these devices into tiny chips that can be slipped directly into phones and computers.

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