German engineers have reported a new wireless data transmission record, beaming six gigabits per second over 36.7 kilometres. Their next-gen Wi-Fi consists of powerful amplifiers and sensitive receivers, and could one day support satellite communication or supply internet to remote regions.
You may think six gigabits per second is sluggish compared to the one terabit per second wireless transfer speeds the University of Surrey chalked up last year, but what makes this development exciting is that it happened outside controlled lab conditions.
The scientists achieved their wireless speeds by transmitting a radio frequency of 71 to 76 gigahertz, part of the so-called “E band” which is regulated for terrestrial and satellite broadcasting.
They relayed signals from a transmitter, 45 storeys up a tower in central Cologne, to the Space Observation Radar at the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques in Wachtberg.
To make sure the transmission made the distance, the team developed a powerful transmitter containing gallium nitride amplifiers, which boosted the signals and dispatched them through a parabolic antenna.
Of course even the strongest signals fade as they move further from the source.
So for the receiving end, the scientists developed low-noise amplifiers containing indium gallium arsenide semiconductors to detect the weak blips.
The speed is fast enough to transmit the contents of a conventional DVD in less than 10 seconds, the researchers say.
Or, if you haven’t used a DVD in a while, think of transmitting the data required for two hours of HD Netflix streaming in a single second – pretty impressive with a “router” 37 kilometres away.
For now the wireless speed record is self-proclaimed, so should be taken with a grain of salt until it is independently verified or published in a peer-reviewed journal.
But the scientists have already started on a follow-up project, with their sights set on better data communication for Earth observation satellites.
The technology could also mean fast internet supplied wirelessly over long distances to rural areas and remote regions. The press release states a 24 megabit per second ADSL could supply 250 internet connections.
The team is even pitching their system as a low-cost contender for the optical fibres, which we currently entrust with our internet needs.
According to the researchers, “terrestrial radio transmissions in E-band are suitable as a cost-effective replacement for deployment of optical fibre or as ad-hoc networks in the case of crises and catastrophe, and for connecting base stations in the backhaul of mobile communication systems”.
Viviane Richter is a freelance science writer based in Melbourne.
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