Electronic Design

Get Ready To Cut The Ties That Bind And Go Wireless

The ability to communicate without wires has driven the success of the cell-phone industry to dizzying heights. Now, the wireless networking industry seems poised for a similar growth in popularity. Not only has the growth of the 802.11 wireless standard begun to surge, but with the approaching availability of Bluetooth and other wireless interfaces, almost anything can be networked to just about anything else.

Wireless communications allows us to throw off the shackles of cable-bound linkages and move around, performing our jobs with additional freedom and enjoying our lives with fewer restrictions. In today's typical handheld personal digital assistant (PDA) scenario, the user will often place the device into a cradle which, in turn, is connected via a serial cable to the desktop or laptop computer.

On the other hand, with a wireless LAN built into the PDA and desktop or laptop, the cradle and cable—except for charging—can be eliminated. With a little smart software, the PDA also can be set to synchronize to the other computer when it is in range and automatically update all desired files.

Digital cameras can provide consumers with similar benefits if both the camera and the host computer or other device have built-in networking. No longer will users have to fiddle with cables. Just bringing the camera into proximity will let the two devices synchronize and transfer files.

The physical interfaces alone, though, aren't enough to provide usable solutions. I have several concerns that the industry at large isn't heavily focused on, even though these issues may end up giving this technology a partial black eye. My two main worries pertain to the software that resides behind the interfaces and to the power consumption/battery life available for the portable devices. Because many wireless devices will be used by consumers, the software that connects the devices together and permits consumers to use them needs to be simple. It also needs to operate flawlessly. And, this software must provide ways to recover from potential mistakes, such as inadvertent erasures.

Similarly, we would all like to have systems that could run forever on a single set of batteries. Although that's far from reality, a system that only allows an hour or two of utilization would be far from adequate. For the real world, that translates into designing ultra-low-power silicon as well as batteries that provide higher energy densities. These batteries can't be any more expensive than today's cells. At the same time, they must also be environmentally "friendly."

To make this happen, short-term thinking isn't the answer. We must consider all of the long-term aspects to ensure that all of the pieces come together and make the wireless world a reality. In the meantime, is anybody interested in battery manufacturer stocks?

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