1 May 2013

Amazing possibilities of wireless communication

By Mujahid Tabassum

Owing to the advances in information technology, the world has witnessed some of the most amazing inventions ever seen. In recent times, we have been surrounded by unimaginably powerful communication devices, computers and handheld gadgets that are designed to maximize human activity. These were considered science fiction only a few decades ago.

This became possible thanks to wireless communication. The history of wireless communication, in fact, goes back to 1864 when British physicist Sir James Clerk Maxwell mathematically envisaged the existence of electromagnetic waves. Today, wireless communication is one of the most prominent and fastest growing industries. With innovations in information technology, convergence between the various industries has been accelerated. As a result, it has captured the attention of investors and consumers, prompting more research into improvements in related fields. A good example is telecommunication. It has seen exponential growth over the last decade, capturing almost three billion users worldwide. Mobile phones have is now a basic need and the development of ground-breaking portable wireless communication devices has increased user expectation towards high and continuous data connectivity. Thus, it has created a huge challenge among service providers who are competing to offer reliable and high data rate services to end users. In the last 20 years, wireless communication has changed our way of the life. Today, it is difficult to comprehend life without wireless communication. Wireless broadband, Internet browsing and widespread adoption of smart devices has become a necessity.

Over the years, the demand for high data in wireless communication is continuously increasing. This is mainly due to the growing number of users and services available such as multimedia file sharing, chatting, voice, Google map, and video and streaming.

Undoubtedly, the Internet has opened a new horizon for revenue generation. Jeff Vogel estimated that 7.5 billion smart devices will be accessing the Internet by the end of 2015. Therefore, the telecommunication industry is moving towards the forefront of the “big data” wave.

Looking back, wireless technologies have evolved tremendously. The first generation fulfilled the basic requirement of voice transmission over mobile phone while the second generation was more focused on data capacity and wide area coverage services. There was huge spike in the third generation which offered higher data rate opportunities and opened the horizon for wireless mobile broadband services such as WiMax. Currently, the telecommunication industry has introduced the faster LTE 4G generation to support the higher data rate of 36 megabits worldwide.

Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs) is perhaps one of the most important innovations of the 21st century. WSN consists of spatially distributed autonomous sensors to monitor physical or environmental conditions, such as temperature, sound and pressure, and to cooperatively pass their data through the network to a main location via wireless medium such as radio frequency. The network of a number of tiny sensors can be deployed within 100 meters to 300 meters. It offers a simple and economically viable approach for the deployment of monitoring devices. For example, WSNs could be used to monitor the water level, humidity and rain density of paddy fields so that the growth of the plants can be controlled.

The integration of wireless communication with smart and tiny devices has stimulated the growth of WSNs across industries including education, automation, medical, military and agriculture. E-learning systems via wireless sensor networks are being proposed to increase literacy in rural areas. As rural folk do not always have easy access to education, WSN offers an easy, cheap and flexible solution because of its lower cost, mobility and wireless infrastructure.

Also taking advantage of WSN is the medical industry and is expected to play an essential role here. Innovative applications have been produced for the management of patients, with successes to boot. An example of WSNs in use is body sensors with long range radios implanted in the patient, allowing the patient to be monitored and cared for remotely in real-time. Through the use of WSN technology, the medical industry has developed cost effective and efficient diagnosing systems for identifying health problems. Today, doctors are using sensors to keep tabs on vital changes on their patients.

The last few decades have witnessed a phenomenal growth in the wireless communication industry. The ever increasing user demands have triggered researchers and industries to come up with a comprehensive manifestation of a fifth generation mobile communication system and other wireless communication systems for use in medicine, military, and so on. So, expect to see and even experience revolutionary changes in wireless communication applications in the near future. It could only get better.

Mujahid Tabassum is a lecturer with the Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Science at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. He is contactable at mtabassum@swinburne.edu.my