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The future of communications

The smartphone, the new radio access network (II)

Nikola Tesla was not only a genius (he conceived the inductor motor, the principle of radar, the asynchronous electrical motor, the concept of energy weapons, etc) but also a visionary. Back to 1909 he predicted the cellphone in this short interview published in the New York Times :

Since the first cellular phone (GSM) created by Siemens in 1953 (16 kg, and that cost 8,000 Mark, more than a worker's salary !), mobile telecommunication technologies have progressed faster than any other technology.

In the U.S.A., in 1993 there were 34 million cellphones, there were 159 million in 2003, an increase of 300% ! 

In less than one generation, with its 10 million inhabitants, Belgium saw the number of its fixed phones decrease of 50% while cellphones sales increased exponentially. In 1997, there were less than 1 million cellphones in Belgium, in 2004 there were more than 8 million, as many as radios, for about 2.5 million home computers only. Ten years later, the cellphone market is satured in some countries with more cellphones than inhabitants, 75% of them using also a computer at home.

That said, cellphones radiating relatively powerful shortwaves, for your health it is recommended to not abuse of them (see the article Electromagnetic radiations and your health).

The current technology of cellular phones and other smartwatchs able to transmit messages, images and videos over short waves was already imagined long times ago. At left, a British magazine about electronics predicted in 1946 that one day we could wear on wrist a device as small as a clock able to receive the latest news as text messages. At center, on July 13, 1946, Chester Gould published in the "Los Angeles Times" the "Dick Tracy" comic strips in which we saw for the first time a 2-way wrist transmitter. This idea was reused later in all science-fiction films (e.g. in 1979, in "Star Trek: The motion picture" captain Kirk used a RF communicator precursor of the smartwatch). While the first digital watch was created in 1972 (Hamilton Pulsar P1), we had to wait 1983 to see the first Seiko Data 2000 with RF capabilities, 1999 to see the first Samsung watchphone SPH-WP10 connected to Internet, and in 2013 we discovered the first hybrid accessory combining a smartphone and a wrist computer with the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch. At right, an advertisement from Radio Shack dated 1991. All these products ensuring only one function and representing a global cost of 3100$ (5100$ or 3700€ in 2014) are today integrated in a smartphone sold less than 200€ ! In 15 years, the integration has much improved and prices have been divided by 20. Thanks Moore !

From a social point of view, we can easily explain this fast growing. For many people, the cellphone is still consider as something new or in the move that they have to try working through. But once they will be used to it, social norms will stabilize a little bit, and this growth will probably slow down to the benefit of other new products.

The power of smartphones is found in its roaming capabilities associated to ULSI technology. In streets and specialized shops for example, since 2004 we begin to see new products like posters, books or multimedia devices able to communicate with customers. Why for ? Here is a simple example that all kids will appreciate. Let's take the poster of a singer, and insert in a corner a microprocessor and a flexible UHF antenna as small as a credit card. This chip is stand-alone, it is not connected to a major record company but it could be. Now, when you place your smartphone close to it, the chip is able to detect the transcient transmission of your cellular phone. And then ? Thanks to the cellular network you can download the last hit of the singer stored in the chip memory. You have only to acknowledge the transfert (your will be charged of course) to hear the song on your cellphone !

In the same way, new models of smartphones like the emblematic Apple iPhone include not only a phone but a complete computer. Two to four times smaller than a subnote, this new generation of smartphones comes with a touch screen, a virtual keyboard, they generally support high-speed 3G/4G communications, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, include a camera, a GPS, without to forget the usual SMS/MMS capabilities and the electronic agenda (directory, notebook, calculator, Internet access, etc).

When we know that we can place billions on transistors onto a single chip or create graphic processors including thousands of processor cores, the future of communications will be fantastic !

Evolution of the cellphone. From left to right, the GSM Benefon twig (Geoloc) released in 2000 with a GPS chipset, Palm Treo 650 released in 2004, Samsung GT-S5230W smartphone, and Apple iPhone 5 released in 2012. The compacity, versatility and power of this product seduced all generations at such a point that the mobile is today practically consider as a consumable.

In 2000, I wrote in this chapter " It is more than probable that in the near future the cellphone will see all its wireless and roaming functionalities improved, that it will use high speed protocols like 3G or even 4G associated to Bluetooth or Wi-Fi for close range communications". We had to wait about 10 years to materialize this idea.

I also wrote : "It will be able to carry sound, video, data, Internet and email in a few keystrokes. You could use your cellphone to send data across long-distances in the same way as you do now with a personal computer, while being mobile and always available. It is the same with the fiber optic line at home where the router can be set up to divert phone calls to a mobile number". That was realized in the same time.

Maybe one day, as Martti Laine, OH2BH did, we will all steer our antennas or drive a car with a smartphone ! It is far to be impossible.

Connected to external sensors the Mobile Health is a reality (see this article written in French). You can trace your ECG or sleep curves on a smartphone or send the data by email to your doctor. The sportman can already use his smartphone or tablet to measure his beat or his blood pressure and warn him if he has exceeded a threshold or endured a severe impact (Cf. Nike+Run and Reebok Checklight devices). He can send HD pictures and videos to his friends or small messages to social networks.

Thanks to the high integration of its components, applications are unimaginable as much they are numerous. Go men ! At your CAD system and your soldering iron... We will see you again in ten years with your patent !

At left, concepts of smartwatches with OLED flexible screen imagined by Samsung. At right, the first e-skin including an antenna and a RF transmitter designed in 2013 by John Rogers from University of Illinois to monitor vital signals, including ECG and EEG. If Daddy saw that... !

The digital radio

All through the XXth century radio amateurs participated in the development of many technologies and applications related to wireless. Not to mention the discovery by amateurs of the transatlantic communications by shortwaves then extended world-wide in HF bands, these are them too that developed the Morse code (in CW mode) that some services (Army and P&T services) continue today to use locally.

Propagation research has been a key area. Radio amateurs are uniquely placed to provide data for this research and have been instrumental in discovering unusual modes of propagation like Tropospheric or Trans-equatorial propagation (TEP). They have also played a key role in the development of new data modes, and in particular Packet radio and PSK31. Here the professional community has used many of the ideas pioneered by radio amateurs.

Hardware side, it is hard to see how far can lead us the computer science allied to radioelectricity. From the tubes receiver of the '20s, to the transistorized of '50s, up to the VLSI model released in the '90s, the technology has each time made huge jumps even if the basic circuit stayed the same : the receiver is always a superheterodyne

The good time of cathedrals...

Where is the difference then ? Instead of using a single IF-stage we use up to four successive conversions, additional amplifications stages and much more powerful software filtering features, aka DSP.

Another direction is however currently explored at the US Department of Defense who has sponsored research into direct "DC-to-Daylight" receivers, processing all digitally from VLF to SHF, like do e.g. WinRADIO WR-3700i DSP radio card or ICOM PCR-1000 model.

Parallel to these developments, since 2003 broadcasting AM companies begin to provide programs in DRM format (Digital Radio Mondiale), a quality today only accessible on CD and soon on the air. Some manufacturers already sell "DRM" radios like Coding technologies, Mayah, Ten-Tec, AOR or FlexRadio Systems. The future is undoubtedly digital and the time of cathedrals is well over...

This "DC-to-Delight" technology samples the RF signal directly and process almost everything by DSP. Back in the '60s the direct-conversion RF front ends with phasing circuitry was already tested but as it required much memory and processing, it was too slow and too expensive.

Today this technology is revitalized thanks to the availability of affordable DSP chips that can implement the phasing method via digital techniques. If high speed analog to digital devices become cheaper and have less problems with internally generated spurious signals, go with them. Then the only other problem will be to fit enough memory in these high-end transceivers to process in near-real-time data being generated by signal from DC to Daylight.

What can we foresee in the future ? Only post doc engineers working at AT&T, Yaesu-Vertex, Ten-Tec, I-Com and other Kenwood on these extreme technologies could maybe try to answer to this question.

A small step to the full DSP receiver.

Without being member of the very exclusive club of clear-sighted genius or in gods' secrets, helped by Moore' law, we can just try to look over the shoulders of scientists developing new concepts, read studies that they have published, and found in the news the most promising innovations.

A trend is outlining going to receivers using still more DSP technologies from the antenna preamp to the audio stage, from the fuzzy logic and neuronal networks associated to more intelligent features, an intensive use of ULSI technology to support such improvements, combinted with larger and faster versatile memories, optionally extractible like Flash cards, the whole customized through verbose menuing, maybe vocal, and displayed on a tactil OLED screen.

The rear side of these gears could soon take advantage of infrared and USB connections. If it is enough hardened, the future transceiver could even include wireless connections thanks to built-in Wi-Fi interface boards and other UMTS protocol.

These technologies are available and can be built-in from factory on a single interface card which cost make tehm available to all. In fact there is no limit, excepted the imagination of our engineers.

And the day after tomorrow ?

In May 2002, Dr Robert M. L. Baker, Jr., a Californian aerospace engineer delivered a lecture at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Germany about a new possible amazing way of communication. The experiment involves the generation and detection of high-frequency gravitational waves (HFGW) in the laboratory...

According to Dr Baker such waves open up the prospect for extremely high bandwidth, nanoscale transceivers, whose signals pass through all material things unattenuated and can, for example, reach deeply submerged submarines – the ultimate wireless "point-to-multipoint QHz communication without the need for expensive enabling infrastructure, that is, no need for fiber-optic cable, satellite transponders, microwave relays, etc. Antennas, cables, and phone lines would be a thing of the past !

Dr. Baker invited all his colleagues to investigate this area : "Today, we have the unique opportunity to study and utilize the gravitational-wave phenomenon predicted by Poincaré and Einstein decades ago because of recent advances in technology. Today, we have the means to generate HFGW and to detect HFGW in the laboratory because of the availability of two new HFGW detectors. And we now, today, have the motivation to apply HFGW to communication, space propulsion, imaging and, in general, the motivation for the laboratory study of HFGW ! ". Dr. Baker strongly urged the formation of an International HFGW Working Group to stimulate thinking and set parameters for the epoch-making experiment that will, he believes, soon become a reality.

Several other professors of physics and astrophysics share the same optimism, all the more that laboratories studying gravitational waves already exist in various countries in the framework of LIGO and other LISA experiments. Of course these instruments work at the other end of the electromagnetic spectrum, trying to detect perturbations up to ten times smaller than the atom diameter at 1 kHz (1 part in 1016 !).

In practice, thanks to HFGW we could create emitters using a network of piezoelectric crystals vibrating in phase able to generate artificially gravitational waves at frequencies higher than GHz. As you know, in these SHF bands, the background noise is much weaker. The modulation of this carrier could allow the transmission of data. This mode of propagation could allow amateurs of the XXIIth century to reach antipodal DX stations directly through the Earth that offers no screen for gravity waves. Added to the possibility of using extremely high frequencies, thus offering huge bandwidths, this technology opens really fascinating perspectives.

For more information

As much as we can get it from the future, Hi ! :

How to select a HF transceiver ? (on this site)

How the Web was born

World Internet Usage

QEX and QST magazines, ARRL

CQ Magazine

GSM World

FlexRadio Systems


Internet, ISOC



GravWav (gravitational wave research)

Robert M.L.Baker (HFGW)





Forum :

Nation Master (world statistics)

Information Society (European Commission)

Computer science @IBM Research (PDF)

Kaspersky anti-virus

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