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Wireless Data Swifter than Wired Data

The old adage is that wireless data transfer is slower and less secure than a wired link. There are exceptions in special cases true, but in general this holds up. Unfortunately that is a potential bottleneck for heavy sensory bandwidth systems such as virtual reality and simulated stimulation, when on the move.

A solution for these problems that don't yet exist, has cropped up in the form of the work of Frank Deicke, a researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems in Dresden, Germany. Frank is not a VR or sensory immersion researcher, but a humble computer scientist who was looking for a way to stream wirelessly films and photographs in a wait-free way that's not generally possible. Bluetooth was simply not fast enough for him.

He knew that there simply had to be a better way to transfer large amounts of data quickly and easily from one device to another. Using Bluetooth or Wi-fi to copy high resolution video footage of an entire wedding reception to a computer takes a great deal of patience, as transferring several gigabytes of film data wirelessly can take several minutes. Time in which you cannot do anything else with the device.

So, Frank used his speciality area - infrared communications technology – to try and come up with a solution. Just a few weeks prior to time of writing, the researcher presented an infrared module the like of which has never been seen before. “It transfers data at a rate of 1 gigabit per second (Gbit/s). To put this into context, one e-mail character has a size of eight bits. The infrared module is able to transfer 125 million characters per second,” he stated, referring to his device.

As stated before, as a general rule, cable connections between electronic devices are faster than wireless ones. In this case it is the other way around. The new “multi-gigabit communication module” is six times faster than a USB2 cable. A comparison with established wireless standards is even more impressive. The IPMS solution is 46 times faster than conventional Wi-Fi and 1430 times faster than a Bluetooth connection, as used to connect cell phones and earphone headsets, for example.

This performance is above all due to high-speed signal processing. In data transfer, the bottleneck is the encoding and decoding of the data, which is to say the packing and unpacking necessary to send data through the air. Before setting off, video information from the digital camera first has to be converted into a radio signal. The receiving device, a laptop for example, then decodes the radio signal and converts it back into film data. All this costs processing time.
The challenge for the researcher and his team was to build a small infrared module with fast-working hardware and software. In addition, the processing time required should be minimal, because the harder the microprocessors have to work, the more electricity they eat up.

As he put it, We achieved this ultimately through a clever combination of different technical solutions, “. In other words, he is using no one single technology but a combinationof multiple kinds as and when they are required.

Frank Deicke and his first prototype

The transceiver at the core of the system is an optical component which is able to send and receive light signals simultaneously. It is only about the size of a child’s fingernail, but manages to fit in a laser diode to send light pulses and a photo detector to detect them. The decoders that receive and translate the encoded data are also crucial. With brand new error-correction algorithms, the signal compensates for weakening and distortion caused by ripples in the air. It resends the damaged parts dynamically without having to send the whole packet again. In essence each packet is a combination of smaller packets, each with their own checksum.

Just like controlling a TV with its remote, there has to be a clear line of sight between sender and receiver. This is no problem for Frank Deicke: “You simply place the camera or the smartphone next to the computer or laptop.” The video is transferred in just a few seconds.

The researchers are very much aware that manufacturers have to accept such technology as standard before it can catch on. Only then will it find its way into a wide variety of devices, enabling consumers to connect almost any laptop to any camera without problems. This is why Frank is active in the Infrared Data Association, where among other things he contributes to the “10 Giga-IR working group”. This makes his goal for the future obvious: to improve on 1 Gbit per second. “Our current infrared module has already demonstrated that infrared technology is able to go far beyond established standards. We plan to improve performance even more in the future.” Frank has already been able to show that the transfer rate of his current model can be raised to 3 Gbits. 10 Gbits cannot be very far off.


Wireless data at top speed
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