back to article Tomorrow's wireless world will be fatter, faster, and creepier

With demand for airborne bandwidth at an all-time high, thanks to ever-flashier streaming and our new Zoomified lifestyles, researchers, standards bodies, and equipment makers are keen to push on and create more capable radio systems. What these will look like, and what they'll do, depends on new technology. The big move …

  1. Flexdream

    New frontiers

    Great summary and forecast Rupert. The future will be exciting, I really like the idea of WiFi sense, and backscatter. I know there's a downside such as misuse for surveillance etc. But on balance - wow! I want some goggles so I can see all this radiation made visible and overlaid.

    1. Henry Hallan
      Big Brother

      Re: New frontiers

      You want googles that can see through walls and clothing?

      I think that might be the "creepier" in the title.

      1. Randolf McKinley

        Re: New frontiers

        Agh, they've been around for decades! I remember adverts for X-Ray glasses that would let you see through clothing in the back of kids' comics in the 1960s. Usually illustrated with a picture of a boy/young man on the beach looking at girls in bikinis.

        How times have changed!

      2. Bartholomew Bronze badge

        Re: New frontiers

        > You want googles that can see through walls and clothing?

        That will be one of the very first DIY/hacker "hello world" open hardware applications of THz chips once the price drops low enough.

        The solution to block it for walls and doors is a tin layer of metal foil inside building materials (which will also help with reflecting heat back into the room). Or a fine metal mesh with apertures at least 10x smaller than the wavelength of the RF to be reflected/attenuated.

        e.g The holes in the screens of microwave oven doors are typically 1 mm diameter and that is able to attenuate any of the leaking kilowatt (60 dBm) of microwaves (2.4 GHz) with a wavelength of 120 mm down to the legal limit of 1mW/cm^2 at 5 cm from the oven (0dBm) during operation (the same power level as a Bluetooth headset, and you stick them in your ear!).

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "as frequency goes up antenna size goes down"

    That comes as a surprise to me.

    Okay, I'm just a programmer and I have zero qualifications when it comes to physics, but I would have thought that if the size of the wave is smaller, you'd need a larger antenna to properly capture it. The rules of physics have spoken, and I bow before them.

    But what is this love affair with 802.11 ? Instead of suffixing with an endless array of letters, couldn't they finally pass on to 802.12 ?

    Let it go, guys. There are more numbers available.

    1. Yet Another Hierachial Anonynmous Coward

      Re: "as frequency goes up antenna size goes down"

      "f the size of the wave is smaller, you'd need a larger antenna"

      No, opposite is true. Size of antenna is related to wavelength. So as frequency goes up, size of antenna goes down for same performance. What does happen, is that more efficient antennas, with more gain and directional properties can be made more easily for high frequencies.

      Have a look at a TV antenna (c. 600mhz) compared to fm radio antenna (c. 100mhz). The Tv antenna can be much smaller, and then, for an aesthetically acceptable size, can be built with more gain and directivity. The extra gain being useful in overcoming the higher frequency losses, as explained by the article.

      I don't buy the bit in the article about using carefully designed antennas or indoor use to mitigate the satellite issue though. As soon as you put these into the hands of unskilled persons (ie, the public, unlicensed bands) you have lost all control. Someone will stick one in a waterproof box and use it outside, or the antenna will point in any random direction. Look how little ordinary folks understand about placing wi-fi routers - where they are buried under cables, behind TV's, metal cabinets and whatever else.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: if the size of the wave is smaller, you'd need a larger antenna

      As a rule of thumb, an antenna will typically be about wavelength-sized, or thereabouts (e.g. several wavelengths). You can make them a lot bigger, but it's not always especially helpful or efficient.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: if the size of the wave is smaller, you'd need a larger antenna

        As a rule of thumb, an antenna will typically be about wavelength-sized

        About half wavelength is a typical antenna design.

    3. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: "as frequency goes up antenna size goes down"

      Look up how a Yagi antenna works, that will explain it.

    4. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Re: "as frequency goes up antenna size goes down"

      Antennas are resonant so the active element shrinks with frequency. When you see a giant microwave dish or yagi antenna, the giant part is passively making the resonance more directional. Mobile radios use multi-antenna phasing to actively control direction somewhat. At the higher frequencies, arrays fit in chips..

    5. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: "as frequency goes up antenna size goes down"

      If only I had the outdoor space for a top band dipole.

      Compare a TV antenna (UHF) to a VHF beam some people still have for FM radio. Look at the spacing between their directors.

  3. Fazal Majid

    Surely you mean “6GHZ Wi-Fi 6E standard”, not “60GHZ Wi-Fi 6 standard”.

  4. Thomas F Thurlow

    Are THZ frequencies for use by Wi-fi or 6g or 7g cellular phones safe?

    As we march steadily upward, and move higher and higher with the frequencies that are used for wi-fi and 6g or 7g cellular

    phone systems, are those THZ frequencies we are moving to safe? While issues were raised with the 860 mhz frequencies used in

    the original analog cell phones, I do think that the analog cell phones were safe. But the move to THZ frequencies could be very unsafe because:

    - we are getting closer and closer to microwave or even x-ray frequencies

    - we are sending larger and larger amounts of data to devices. And safety can relate to the dosage of these

    frequencies we are being exposed to

    I think that there should be massive testing done to find out how high wi-fi and cell phone frequencies can go

    before they become unsafe. Testing should include dosage as well as frequency. When the maximum

    frequencies that can be used safely are determined, then product development doesn't need to stop.

    New products just need to use safe lower frequencies in different ways to achieve new goals.

    Additionally, testing should include testing with birds and other creatures to make sure the use of THZ frequency bands doesn't

    cause more creatures to go extinct.

    Tom

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Are THZ frequencies for use by Wi-fi or 6g or 7g cellular phones safe?

      we are getting closer and closer to microwave

      Been there for years.

      I think that there should be massive testing done to find out how high wi-fi and cell phone frequencies can go

      Technically, there's no upper limit and high enough (X-ray or Gamma) you don't need to worry about attenuation so much…

      The key issue, as the article mentions, is to use directional, or focussing antennae so that, for the same power output, you have more efficient transmission by using beams rather than simple radiation. Efficiency in this sense also means not frying the meatware as much…

    2. EVP

      Re: Are THZ frequencies for use by Wi-fi or 6g or 7g cellular phones safe?

      X-ray cellular technology would be cool. Enough power and no building would harm signal transmission.

      Side effects? Nah, who cares. I just wan’t my cat videos, and want ‘em downloaded like now!

    3. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Bronze badge

      Re: Are THZ frequencies for use by Wi-fi or 6g or 7g cellular phones safe?

      Relax, it's not about frequency, it's about the power - that's what determines damage to living tissue. And despite the industry only relatively recently developing THz technology for industrial or consumer use, knowledge of the radiation in those bands has existed for decades. This is how safe radiation limits have been set by various health and safety organisations around the world, for decades now.

      Ok, so you can't just conpletely disregard frequency. There are some frequencies that, say cause water molecules to vibrate and heat up, causing severe tissue damage if exposed to high enough power. This is how a domestic microwave oven works - on exactly the same frequency as WiFi, but at very different powers. This is why a microwave oven can burn meat, but a WiFi router can't, even though they are on the same frequency.

      The sort of powers used for mobile Comms like WiFi are easy below the levels that will cause damage to living tissue. Big transmitters like TV towers, airport radars or telephone towers can cause harm, but only if you are really close. There will always be a safe radiation distance around such transmitters, which doesn't need to be very much, even for high power transmitters.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Are THZ frequencies for use by Wi-fi or 6g or 7g cellular phones safe?

        I thought it was the case that some frequencies can damage DNA (e.g., X-rays) but those are much higher than the ones in question. That's often cited in the standard reply as a first principle that ensures microwave transmission cannot cause genetic damage.

        Although that that existing DNA cannot be harmed is probably true, it ignores the delicate process of mitosis (or meioses which creates sperm or eggs), where new DNA are in the delicate process of reforming. Could lower quantas of energy statistically impact the chance of mistakes? I don't know, but I'm surprised that it is left out of consideration in the standard reply.

    4. Thomas F Thurlow

      Re: Are THZ frequencies for use by Wi-fi or 6g or 7g cellular phones safe?

      I appreciate the comments made about THZ frequencies. At least I am not the only one thinking about this subject. On power - we are likely using higher power levels in our cell phones as the data rates increase to Mbit or Gbit data rates, from the kbit data rates of analog cell phones of the 1980's. On cell phones - young children are putting these things up against their heads - that could produce bad side effects.

      It would be nice if development could be done to keep cell phones less dangerous:

      - make cell phones that expose the human body to less high frequency radiation

      - look into ways to achieve much higher data rates with the currently used lower frequencies - so

      we don't have to move to such high frequencies for 6g and 7g devices in the future.

      It would be nice to see articles on the testing of different frequency signals at different power levels, and how they are safe or not safe for people.

      Thanks,

      Tom

  5. Roland6 Silver badge

    "and using light instead of wireless"

    "– a capability the original 802.11 had in 1997, which nobody wanted then and probably won't want now."

    Not so sure about nobody wanting, there are a lot of line-of-sight laser links around, these work well, just don't mix vendors.

    Also back then I suspect there were questions about IEEE treading on the toes of the IrDA.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: "and using light instead of wireless"

      But because none of them were interchangeable in terms of optics - there wasn't much advantage in the light having a common 802.11 encoding

    2. Bartholomew Bronze badge

      Re: "and using light instead of wireless"

      You mean Li-Fi ?

  6. immodestlyretro

    Quit clogging the pipes with crud, then things will flow faster.

    General web browsing is a pretty bloated experience. Lots of websites want to throw in their high-res full-screen banners, tracking libraries, and feed all sorts of data to third party advertisers. Not to mention auto-play video and sounds as soon as I arrive on the page.

    Then there's spammers, clogging up pipes worldwide. They don't need to be given any more room, in my opinion.

    I don't think bandwidth needs to improve in areas where it's already broadband. I'd like to see improvements in screen content sharing, and better protocols for streaming changes in content to any number of clients, rather than just converting the entire screen to video/images and sending those down the pipes. I have two family members working remote from home alongside me, and the demand on bandwidth is high when we're all dialed in via various meeting tools.

  7. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. pip25
    Meh

    I'm starting to feel like we've long passed CD levels in wireless standards

    Yes, the title makes no sense at first glance, let me explain.

    Anyone remember DVD-Audio? It offered better quality than CDs, but it never caught on. Why? Surely for a myriad of reasons, but one of particular importance was that "people didn't care". The difference between CD and DVD audio quality was inaudible to most.

    I'm starting to get the same feeling with wireless standards, especially those pertaining mobile networks. 4G already covers most use cases for the average consumer, you can watch full HD videos while walking like a zombie on the street if you're so inclined, sites load in a second or less, etc. Unless we find something that people really want and requires a lot of bandwidth (and no, 8K video is not a good candidate, for the very same reason outlined above), this is starting to feel like technological advancement for its own sake. In other words, its return of investment seems questionable.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: I'm starting to feel like we've long passed CD levels in wireless standards

      >4G already covers most use cases for the average consumer, you can watch full HD videos while walking like a zombie on the street if you're so inclined

      Yes, now have a 1000 people in the same street all doing it.

      5G isn't just about max bandwidth for a single link

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: I'm starting to feel like we've long passed CD levels in wireless standards

        >5G isn't just about max bandwidth for a single link

        Unless your job is getting people to buy 5G handsets and contracts...

        By "your job" I include those working in marketing/advertising and those who review tech.

  9. DS999 Silver badge

    This is stupid

    There is no huge untapped demand for another order of magnitude increase in wifi bandwidth beyond current standards. Everything people use computers for goes through their senses, and you can't get richer sensory input than full motion video. Once you reach a certain level of visual quality in streaming, there is very little interest in further increase.

    It is proving difficult even selling people on 4K streaming, other than HDR there's marginal improvement in going from 1080p to 4K, so few will care about 8K streaming even if studios start producing 8K content. Maybe you get 120 fps, at least for sports. How many streams can a household watch at once? With quality 4Kp60 at 25 Mbps or so, even if you got 8Kp120 that's well under 100Mbps so you don't even need a gigabit to serve a large household.

    You can't get richer input to your senses than full motion 4K/8K video unless/until we get true volumetric holography, so there's not much room for bandwidth demand to grow based on human needs.

    So the only potential place for growth is computer to computer, but in the end that serves human needs so it is hard to imagine that will drive another order of magnitude increase in wireless bandwidth demand beyond what fully deployed wifi6E and 5G can provide. Wifi 7 and 6G are solutions looking for a problem, and anyone speaking up against them will be shouted down with cries of "640K is enough for anyone" as if bandwidth demands will always increase at the same rate they have in the past.

    1. KSM-AZ
      Thumb Up

      Re: This is stupid

      There are of course uses of more bandwidth, but I don't think anyone can argue the diminishing return. Just as fully wired WAN networks went from modems to 56k, 256k,to ... 1G. We saw the evolution of LANS from sub-10M to 6 to 100, then switching, then 1G. . . It seems to me 1G pretty much starts the drastic diminishing return. 10G is nice, as the person above alluded, to allow more than one 1G, or rapidly moving large volumes of data. High end Data Center is running 25 and 40G, and the carriers are fiddling with 100G stuff. Frankly all my LAN networks pretty much went 'stable' at switched 1G with a couple of 10G interconnects. 5G will likely be the tipping point for wireless as it implements the equivalent of "switching" in the wireless space by preventing signal noise/overlap, and channeling for wireless connections, most of which started with qualcomm's CDMA tech, improved with LTE and improved even more with the current 5G LTE.

      We've seen the same trends with performance / cpu's. Definitely a fun time for tech.

    2. jmch Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: This is stupid

      "You can't get richer input to your senses than full motion 4K/8K video unless/until we get true volumetric holography..."

      You neglect to mention direct-to-brain embedded chippery

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: This is stupid

        The point has already arrived when saddos have started to value picture quality over the quality of the actual content on the video they are viewing. I found if the video content is really interesting I'll put up with much lower image quality, I seem to forget about it.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: This is stupid

          I agree. I'd rather watch SD television than HD – less chance of glitching due to transient latency or bandwidth constraints. The "image quality" doesn't matter to me at all, as long as I can make out what's going on.

          But then I grew up with broadcast television (we didn't even have a color set until I was seven or eight years old). And I don't care at all about stereo sound, much less Dolby 5.1 and the rest.

          I know this sort of thing is important to some people, but I find it utterly irrelevant.

          1. David 132 Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: This is stupid

            Luddite. You haven't lived until you've seen the 8K HDR Dolby Atmos remasters of Roobarb & Custard.

        2. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: This is stupid

          Such "videophiles" are to be expected, just like there are audiophiles who were buying SA-CD and DVD-A back in the day, and insist open 24 bit 192 KHz FLAC today.

          Niche cases like that won't drive investment as massive as a 6G rollout would be. Faster wifi is a much smaller investment, since they just have to built it and hope customers come. I think they'll find that businesses stop upgrading after wifi 6/6E, since the addition of OFDMA and spatial reuse will pretty much eliminate contention issues in even very large deployments (maybe not something like a stadium, but that's a problem solved by mmwave 5G)

      2. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: This is stupid

        When someone invents that we'll see what the bandwidth requirements are. Given the very low bandwidth of our visual cortex (estimated at only 10 Mbps so we're already over it with 4K video) it is unlikely even a hypothetical "direct transfer" sensory experience would require all that much bandwidth.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is stupid

      When looking at a video looks as real as looking out of a window, then I'll agree with you!

    4. Graham Cobb Silver badge

      Re: This is stupid

      I think you are wrong.

      Of course you are right that people aren't going to care much about higher video data rates, although there is probably at least another (power of 10) order of magnitude to go when considering very large screens (wall sized).

      I think there will be three main sources of demand for higher wireless speeds which will keep us going for another 3 or more orders of magnitude yet.

      1) Capacity - as another commenter mentioned, if you are in the business of providing these services you want to be able to serve everyone at once, accessing different content, so need to be able to source the data at hundreds of times the rate of the consumers.

      2) New applications. High bandwidth and very, very low latencies are required for things which appear to be responsive to humans. Things like VR gaming, education applications, digital assistants and many consumer and business 'AI' services, all hosted in clouds, will require very low latencies to make them appear friendly (the "uncanny valley" effect).

      3) Wireline replacement - in high-end domestic and, more importantly, in business environments, people want to move away from wires, so things like backup need to work well over wireless.

  10. Missing Semicolon Silver badge
    Boffin

    Round corners

    How the heck does 3mm wavelength signals get round corners, through windows into rooms, and further inside buildings?

    Surely, it's pretty-well line of sight?

    The positioning is very funny, as the propagation characteristics in real-world buildings are chaotic.

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