The Future of Wireless Communications
The rate at which radio and internet communications services have overtaken the entire society is striking. Prior to this era, communication was done from one definite location to another. The advent of mobile communications has dramatically changed the way communication is achieved. Mobile communications first began in December 1979 in Japan but its growth was slow for the first ten years (Adachi & Nakajima 2000). By the end of July 1999, the number of subscribers to digital phones had exceeded 50 million. Today, mobile communications has become a necessity for everyone, especially for the younger generation. The increased rate at which people access the internet has also made it easy for wireless communication solutions to become popular and central to the deployment of most technology products (Adachi & Nakajima 2000).
Wireless communications is an evolving aspect of technology that centers on ensuring accurate data transfer and speedy exchange of data amongst different devices located in any part of the world. It is the technology behind gadgets like Internet- enabled cell phones, home phones, home appliances, automated highway systems, teleconferencing and sensor networks. Wireless communications has significant ties to data, voice and multimedia applications. Wireless communication can be described as a form of communication that can be achieved without the need for physical devices like metal wires and optical fibers. TVs, cell phones, FM radios, phones and wireless LANS are further examples of common devices that utilize wireless communication technology (Bailey & Summers 1990). Wireless communication is achieved through cellular, microwave, infrared line of sight, satellite, spread spectrum and packet radio technologies (Adachi & Nakajima 2000).
Wireless communications will continue to have a huge impact on the way we live. It ensures that users have access to their information at every point and wherever they find themselves. Wireless communication can be found in almost every industry in developed countries. In the education sector, wireless facilities can be used to gain access to presentations, libraries and forums can be accessed from anywhere within the school premises. Within the military, there’s a device called the Universal Handset; this is a 1.5 lb. device that enables video, satellite communications and Internet access. Similarly in business organizations, wireless internet access can be accessed from anywhere within the office building for increased convenience. The application of wireless communications can also be seen in Global positioning systems; this makes it easy to identify different locations and provide emergency assistance to victims of fire, natural disasters, crime and so on (Kupetz & Brown 2004). Wireless communications can also be seen during short travels; PDAs are constantly being used to send messages in the air. Other sectors like construction, warehouse management, and Health care also benefit from wireless communications. The most popular application of wireless communication in most businesses is in making phone calls and tracking bar codes (Adachi & Nakajima 2000).
The Concept of Wireless Communication
Wireless communication can be further defined as the transfer of electromagnetic signals from one location to another without the use of cables or wired media. This transfer is achieved through the use of infrared light or radio waves (All Business 2009). Infrared communication is different from wireless communication in the sense that it can only be achieved over a short distance and requires a clear line of sight with minimal or no obstruction in order to be effective. Examples of devices that use infrared light include TV remote controls and computers. Infrared waves are unable to pass through walls or any other kind of obstacles (All Business 2009).
Radio waves on the other hand, can travel freely in different directions and through obstacles. One disadvantage of radio waves however is that they are not private. There is no presently no failsafe means of keeping these waves from being intercepted either intentionally or unintentionally by outsiders. Private information should not be transmitted by radio waves unless the information is encrypted or encoded (All Business 2009).
Current wireless systems include Fixed Wireless Access (last mile), Wide Area Wireless Data Services (WWANs), Cellular Systems, Satellite Systems & Paging Systems, Bluetooth, Wireless LANs (WiFi), WiFi5 and so on (All Business 2009).
Importance of Wireless Communications
Wireless phones have become an integral of many peoples’ lives today. So many people see wireless phones as essential and cannot go anywhere without them. There are two major means of implementing communication technology. Wireless communications can be implemented through fiber-optic cables or wireless infrastructure (Finkle 2000). Fiber-optic communications refers to communications that are achieved through telephone lines. These telephone lines may either be above the ground on poles or in underground circuits. Wireless communications on the other hand, involves the transfer of messages through low-energy radio signals to antenna sites that are capable of connecting with any local telephone network (Finkle 2000). This message is then transmitted through the fiber-optic cable to any wired telephone or by radio signal to a wireless phone where it is received by the intended recipient. Wireless communication is achieved by splitting a communication or service area into different cells. Each cell has its own transmitter and receiver antenna that can be used to transfer signals from a particular cell to neighbouring cells. Cell sites have to be close together so that they do not lose communication and the ability to send signals and messages to each other (Finkle 2000).
Benefits of Wireless Communication
Wireless communication solutions provide an excellent opportunity for organizations to improve the productivity of their staff thereby increasing the revenue generated. From the utilization of mobile phones to the spontaneity of email communications, numerous positive contributions are enjoyed by these organizations (Lorenz 1993).
Organizations need to determine in which aspect of their business the wireless communications technology will provide the most return and have the best effect on their business processes. For organizations to remain competitive, state-of the art and advanced wireless technologies need to be developed to suit the evolving needs of customers and the organization’s staff (Groves 1990).
Wireless communication systems have numerous advantages. A major one is the mobility of devices within the wireless environment. Wireless devices are not limited to any particular area; the communicating device can easily be moved around. With wireless communication, there is no additional cost associated with cabling. The initial costs are incurred at the point of installation of the infrastructure. The initial capital outlay of establishing the cell sites and subsequent costs of maintaining a radio-based communication is quite affordable in comparison with wired systems.
For most organizations the benefits of wireless communications can be summarized as follows:
· In most businesses, wireless systems reduce or eliminate the cost of installing electronic Point of sales terminals. They also eliminate the need for extra telephone lines at payment locations (Rasori 2004).
· Down-time experienced during installation of cables is minimized; this prevents loss of revenue
· Portable payment solutions that are beneficial to mobile service providers can easily be incorporated into the payment process to reduce queues. Mobile businesses are able to receive payments immediately; this reduces the risk of fraud or theft (Rasori 2004)
· Wireless solutions are affordable. Most individuals have discarded their landlines in favour of wireless phones that are capable of providing voice services, local calls, voice mall and three-way calling. This acceptance is driven by lower costs and better service. Major carriers do not bill their customers based on the number of minutes used but on the amount of data transmitted on a monthly basis (Rasori 2004).
· Wireless services usually experience minimal downtime. This frees business owners and gives them enough time to focus on increasing sales and attention to customers
· Wireless systems such as cellular systems, wireless LANS and Bluetooth have become smaller, consume less power, are more reliable and are typically mass produced resulting in lower costs. This has increased their widespread use. They also have a significant support for disaster recovery (Rasori 2004).
Challenges of Wireless Communication
Wireless devices have privacy issues. Communication entities need to be verified to ensure that only allowed devices receive the transmitted data. Another major setback of wireless communication is interfering signals. Other devices can generate signals on their own that temporarily disrupt the communication links surrounding them through the noise they generate (Takano, Gambe, & Katoh 2002).
There are Health risk implications for the deployment of wireless systems. This is why there are exposure guidelines for their deployment; wireless devices emit considerable levels of radioactive rays. Another disadvantage of wireless communication systems is radio signal interference. When radio devices interfere with a transmission, the wireless communication may become unsuccessful or delayed (Takano et al 2002).
Evolution of Wireless Systems
Wireless Systems, despite their recent introduction into applications around us, have been around for some time. It all started in 1897 when Marconi demonstrated the use of wireless telegraphy. By 1901, radio transmission and reception had been achieved over the Atlantic Ocean. Since then, different modes of wireless communication have evolved and subsequently disappeared. For example, television transmission has been replaced by cable transmission (Tse 2004). Also, microwave circuits that were initially used in building telephone networks have been replaced by optical fiber. In recent times, wireless technology has also replaced wired telephone network.
The development of wireless communication has been driven by curiosity over the years. This curiosity inspired Bell’s introduction of the telephone and Guglielmo Marconi’s telegraphic communications across the Atlantic Ocean in 1901. Today, research into wireless communications continues with the increasing urge to create wealth, communicate and partake in social evolution. In 1895, Guglielmo Marconi introduced wireless communications by transmitting a morse code for the letter S over a 3km distance through the use of electromagnetic waves. Wireless communications have evolved from satellite transmission to radio, television broadcasting, and radio broadcasting to mobile telephones which have changed the way society functions (Tse 2004).
After Marconi’s work, several commercial and national communications projects were introduced. In the early 1900s, voice was transmitted, and modern radio as we know it today, was born. By 1920, commercial radio had been introduced in a Detroit station and it was called WWJ. The station introduced in Pittsburgh was known as KDKA. Wireless telegraphy was used in South Africa for the first time by the British army during the Anglo-Boer war. The British army also used Marconi’s equipment to send messages between ships in Delagoa Bay; wireless telegraphy was used mainly on ships. Wireless telegraphy was used when the Titanic made radio distress calls in 1912 (Tse 2004).
It was soon realized that there would be an impending need for international collaboration if wireless communication was going to be successful. Government intervention was sought to ensure the coordinated allocation of spectrum, and secure less interference during transmission (Turin1980).
The Future of Wireless Communication
The future holds a lot of promise for wireless technologies. Examples of emerging systems that make use of wireless communications include the following:
Statewide Multiple-Agency Wireless Network
This is a combination of states that are implementing a statewide wireless system that use advanced digital trunk radio systems to form a wireless mobile communications network. This deployment is expected to enhance emergency response services, rural highway data collection, and law enforcement (Finkle 2000).
Another emerging technology is the Third-Generation (3G) Wireless Technologies. The main aim of 3G technologies is to ensure a wide area of coverage for voice and data services over a limited service area. It can considerably enhance real-time video transmission. Rural Local Multipoint Distribution Service (LMDS) and WLL Services is another emerging technology that is used to transmit interactive data such as voice, video and data signals between 3km to 16km in diameter (Finkle 2000).
Another technology known as the Wireless Local Loop (WLL) employs wireless access technologies in providing telecommunication connections instead of wired infrastructure. There are also some satellite systems currently under development. These include Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) systems will eventually be used to deploy cable-like television programming from satellites. Another system is the Global Mobile Satellite Communications systems which provide services such as international roaming, cellular fill-in services, maritime, aviation, rural telephone service and commercial vehicle services. Broadband Satellite Service (BSS) systems also exist and are capable of providing services like video conferencing, video broadcasting, high-speed internet data services and so on (Finkle 2000).
The Future of Wireless Communications
Initially, the transmission from analog to digital communications caused an explosion in the utilization of wireless services. For people in developed countries, they are able to use their phones for wireless internet access. Wireless has come to integrate both data and voice services. Over the next few years, 4G networks will be introduced. Mobility will be paired with broadband for the first time. The typical handset has moved from being just a phone to being a multimedia computer. It is anticipated that every piece of technology will be integrated with a mobile component to increase its versatility. Wire line voice connections are continually giving way to wireless computers. This trend is likely to continue. Networks will continue to perform faster, phones will get smarter and radio connections will continue to transmit signals to different devices. The next generation will not only be about mobility, but will use mobility to create significant depth and scale in the networks of the future. Billions of sensors will be able to transmit data seamlessly on an international scale (Finkle 2000).
Devices will be able to connect directly with other devices in the home, public, office, car and other household objects. These devices will most likely work in unison and not as individual objects. Most of the devices that will be responsible for wireless communications of the future are already here today. Wireless communications of the future will eventually get more intelligent with machines becoming more proactive and knowing what the user without the user making the request or pushing buttons (Fitchard 2009).
The fact that two devices are linked together does not mean that they know what information to exchange. Relevant information can be entered into these devices which can be programmed with set alerts and notifications to ensure that they can perform intelligent services. There’s the need for a device that can integrate these relevant pieces of information together and identify which information is relevant at any particular time (Fitchard 2009).
Wireless communications and the internet are becoming increasingly convergent. Devices are now being used as means of collecting information from the internet and sharing them with other devices on the network. A semantic web is bound to evolve that would allow computers to analyze the entire internet and decipher the meaning of every content in the context in which it is used. The potential for wireless communications in a semantic network is boundless.
For objects to be able to communicate effectively, they must be able to sense one another as well as their surroundings. This future capability is already seen in some objects today. For example, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and cellular triangulation which can sense locations are already present in the average smart phone (Fitchard 2009).
Accelerometers and digital compasses which are capable of sensing motion are also available in smart phones today. Digital cameras can act as eyes for most devices. Since most of these devices already have access to sensor data, the outstanding area of research would involve refining these data, interpreting it and combining it with data from other sensors so that the information can be more comprehensive and useful. Once this can be achieved, there’s no limit to what wireless technologies can achieve (Fitchard 2009).
Some companies have started connecting radios to furniture and certain household objects. For example, a company known as Ambient Devices has manufactured an umbrella whose handle colour changes when there’s rain in the weather forecast. As more and more devices become connected, there’s increased pressure on the network and an increased rate of information exchange.
Spectrum reuse will also be explored to gain higher performances and capabilities from the wireless network. According to the Chief technology officer at Eriksson, cellular network will reduce with an increase in bandwidth. The shrinking of the network can already be seen in Femtocells, which is a personal site that exists for each individual, family or business unit. They are currently being used o offload traffic in high-use areas. Limited spectrum has always been a major problem of communications. Spread spectrum technology will provide telecommunication carriers with the opportunity of increasing the performance of wireless communication. Dividing the environment into small cells is a way of increasing the overall bandwidth of the entire communication within an area (Fitchard 2009).
According to Michael Oommen, vice president of device and technology development for Sprint, femtocells will play a huge part in the development of networks. Instead of a single network, there will be a hierarchical system of small networks that allow devices to communicate in a many-to-many relationship. After a while, the network becomes virtual because one device may be able to use another device’s ability to communicate.
The networks of the future are most likely going to be flexible, distributed and have self-configuring capabilities. As for radio technologies, vendor research labs are exploring radios that can be configured instantaneously to any spectrum or radio access standard. With the use of software-defined radios, the device would be able to adapt to whatever radio standard or frequency is optimal at any given point in time.
Researchers are looking beyond evaluating the connection between a device and the base station. Instead, they are examining the possibility of linking a device to many cell sites and linking to other devices which can act as a relay between the cell sites. This kind of collaboration can create a network architecture in which there’s no real distinction between the device and the infrastructure. Every transmitter can become an end point for its own data and a relay for someone else’s data. The devices within a region would collaborate to determine the best path for each device to follow during this interaction. Internet topology and architecture might be introduced into today’s network. It s possible that internet protocols will be integrated into wireless communications networks. Ultimately, wireless services are likely to merge with the structure of the internet and physical infrastructure. Devices may eventually become an extension of the internet too.
AT ; T is working on the new technology concept of “Three Screens”. This project seeks to connect the Computer, mobile phone and television under a single platform so that the user can glide from one network service to the other seamlessly. Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT;T Mobility has indicated that it won’t be long before we start seeing the link between the content from mobile devices on TV and PC Screens. AT ; T envisions a world where anything in the world can be connected and customers are provided with useful and timely information. De la Vega said that our lives are likely to change for the better and the way we do things will be revolutionalised. People will become more effective and businesses will earn more. The two impediments he believes will pose a problem are the increasing fragmentation of the mobile industry and the growing complexity of technology. He says he’s anxious about the growing number of mobile operating systems in the market, each with a different set of programs and applications. Also, users will have to make sense of complex devices; this is not going to get better any time soon. Technology is supposed to make life easier for the common man and not increase complexities.
Although the third generation (3G) technology has not been fully implemented, leading companies in the industry are already considering introducing the fourth generation (4G) technology. These technologies are still in the planning stages and will not be deployed within the next 5 years. First generation (1G) and second generation (2G) introduced an era of mobile telephony and were intended primarily for voice services. 3G technologies will serve both voice and data (Safecom).
Up till now, there’s no clear definition of what the capabilities of 4G will be but it’s generally accepted that it will be an enhanced version of 3G. This implies a packet-switched network with very high bandwidth. It is also anticipated that 4G will bring enhanced multi-media capabilities like high-speed data access and video conferencing to the handset. It is expected that 4G will be implemented with software defined radios that will allow equipments to be upgraded to new services and protocols through software upgrades. 4G also holds the promise of users being able to roam their phones anywhere in the world. While 1G used analog signaling, 3G used digital signaling. As history as shown, the average time needed for mobile systems development is about 10 years. 4G will be operational in approximately ten years from now (Perera 2001).
One of the major challenges of the 4G technology is how to make the diverse network architectures available today, compatible with one another. If this architecture problem can be addressed, mobile phone carriers will be able to evolve their systems without the need for additional modification to their systems. This would save them time and money (Gupta 2001).
Currently, the wireless technologies available today are GSM, CDMA, and TDMA which are used for 2G, 2.5G and 3G networks. For 4G technologies, the aces techniques, 3xRTT (currently 1xRTT for 2.5 and 3G) and Wideband CDMA (W-CDMA) used today are not interoperable. This issue may however be solved with the use of software defined radios. LinkAir Communications is currently developing a new access technology called large-area-synchronized code-division multiple access (LAS-CDMA) which will be compatible with future technology standards of wireless communications. If offers easy transformation from existing systems to LAS-CDMA using software defined Radio). LinkAir asserts that LAS-CDMA will be compatible with advanced 4G technologies (Safecom).
It is anticipated that 4G speeds will be as high as 100 Mbps. This will represent a major improvement to internet speed and picture quality. It could bring about speeds that are up to 50 times faster than what is currently obtainable with 3G and may be able to offer three-dimensional visual experiences for the first time (Safecom).
Quality of Service (QOS) of a wireless communications system is measured by taking into consideration the quality of transmission and the service availability. 4G is expected to have a reliability of 99.99%. In supporting this percentage, 4G networks will be faced with problems such as bandwidth allocations, varying rate channels, fault tolerance, and support for heterogeneous networks.
Spectrum is a finite resource. In existing wireless systems, frequency licensing and spectrum management are still major issues. In the deployment of 4G technologies, bandwidth allocations may still be a core issue. Software defined radios will support roaming amongst disparate network technologies in 4G systems.
4G GPS applications are going to be very beneficial to the average man. There is likely to be virtual navigation schemes that have a compatible database with graphical representations of streets, buildings and other physical characteristics of a large metropolitan area. These data can be accessed by a subscriber in a moving vehicle that is equipped with the necessary wireless gadget. Rescuers may be able to see the internal layout of a building during rescue operations in a process known as “Telegeoprocessing”. This can be defined as a robust combination of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Global Positioning Systems. This would make it possible for the entire community to have specialized applications for crisis management and enduring public safety (Kupetz ; Brown 2004).
Also in medicine, a paramedic that is attending to a casualty may be able to access a remote database in order to obtain medical records and establish a video conference so that a surgeon can provide on-screen assistance. The paramedic will be able to relay the victim’s vital information for review back to the surgeon.
Wireless communications systems are also indispensable in times of disaster. They can be set up in seconds and they have the capability of reducing down-times because they are generally quite reliable. With wired networks, it could take weeks to recover from a disaster that affects communications.
4G technologies are faced with limitations such as perception. The current hype with 3G will definitely affect 4G technologies; people will not expect them to fail and as such, expectations will have to be managed. Another limitation is cost. Carriers and providers have to plan to make sure that their expenses are realistic.
4G networks, with adequate planning and logistical considerations, may be able to deliver on all these anticipated promises. It seems that technology is constantly evolving to meet user’s expectations and needs. It is important that while technology companies are evolving from one level of service to another, they ensure that their expectations are realistic and their services usable. If technological features do not meet the need of the customers, the purpose of technology is defeated.
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