There was a time when wires were considered the backbone of scientific and industrial endeavors. If you had told Thomas Edison that one day wires would be obsolete, he would have thrown you out of his office.
But that is past now. The present, is witnessing a transition, aiming at a future that would be completely wireless.
Even though the term “wireless” have multiple meaning depending upon the context, the actual force-to-reckon in the IT sector had been Wireless Communication.
Wikipedia defines Wireless Communication as:
“The transfer of information or power between two or more points that are not connected by an electrical conductor.”
This definition is as precise as it comes. In simpler words, any form of communication that does not involve wires, would be classified as wireless communication.
So, why do we need wireless communication when wires were working fine? Here’s why:
–Cost Effective: Lacking the elaborate scheme of wires, wireless systems come out as quite cheap in comparison.
–Convenience: Wireless commination is largely independent of geographical barriers, and can be used without much hassle.
–Extensibility: Unlike wired communication, where entire topology might change to accommodate a new node, wireless connections readily add new devices.
–Flexibility: The range and bandwidth of signals ensure that wireless communication could be used for a large variety of purposes.
Let’s now take a look at the brief history of becoming wireless.
Crazy as it may sound, the man behind the first known wireless communication prototype, was the same man called the Father of Modern Wired Communication: Alexander Graham Bell. His “photophone” was a device that conducted audio conversations wirelessly over modulated light. However, due to lack of technology, the device could never see the light (pun intended).
The backbone of the evolution in wireless communication had been Radio Waves. With a huge range spanning from a few meters to a million kilometer, radio waves have been used for audio/video transmission, navigation and radar, to name a few.
Apart from radio waves, optical communication, sonic transmission and electromagnetic induction have also been used extensively for wireless communication.
Moving on from history, let us now have a look at the new-age technologies used for wireless communications.
“ZigBee is an IEEE 802.15.4-based specification for a suite of high-level communication protocols used to create personal area networks with small, low-power digital radios.” -Wikipedia
Standardized in 2004, Zigbee was intended to be a simpler and cheaper alternative to other WPAN technologies, like Bluetooth.
Instead of targeting the everyday consumer, Zigbee has instead found use in Industrial Control, Embedded Sensing, Building Automation etc.
True to it’s objective of being simple and cheap, the Zigbee radio hardware is optimized for inexpensive large-scale production, while the software is designed to be easy to develop on small, inexpensive microprocessors.
“Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard for exchanging data over short distances from fixed and mobile devices” -Wikipedia
Invented by Ericsson in 1994, Bluetooth was once the most used wireless technology in the cellular market.
Bluetooth is typically used for short-range transmission, even though there is no defined upper limit to the range. It follows the Master-Slave architecture for nodes; however, this also leads to the major drawback of only 8 active devices in a network.
Bluetooth is an authenticated service, because the pin generated has to be verified by all the participants in the connection, thereby minimizing the chances of unauthorized access. That said, Bluetooth is still vulnerable to a variety of network attacks, like Denial-of-Service, Eavesdropping, Man-in-the-middle etc.
The latest version of Bluetooth as of June 2016, was announced to be Bluetooth v5, which would quadruple the range, double the speed, and enable an eight-fold increase in the data broadcasting capacity.
Bluetooth technology has been utilized in a vast arena of applications, including Wireless speaker, Handsfree headsets, Dial-up internet access etc.
A lesser known technology, RF Module is a small electronic device that can transmit and/or receive radio signals between two devices. The medium usually chosen is Radio Frequency, although optical communication can also be employed.
The major application of RF module is in electronics, where it is embedded into devices, enabling them to receive and transmit signals.
RF Modules, on it’s two basic functionalities, are hence divided into three categories:
The application area, though suitable for small-scale applications, range over a large variety, including Vehicle monitoring, Remote Control, Telemetry, Digital Home automation etc.
Wireless Fidelity, or Wi-Fi, is perhaps the most extensively used wireless technology used today. The dream for “a world connected invisibly” is perhaps the unofficial motto or Wi-Fi.
“Wi-Fi is a technology that allows electronic devices to connect to a wireless LAN (WLAN) network.” -Wikipedia
Even though Wi-Fi is a protocol to connect to WLAN networks, the two terms are almost synonymous today. However, WI-Fi alliance defines Wi-Fi as “any wireless local area network” (WLAN) product based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE) 802.11 standards.”
Even though it is less secure than the traditional technologies like Ethernet, Wi-Fi has been a roaring success due to it’s ease of connectivity and availability. As far as security goes, the initial WEP encryption was largely inadequate; however, the WPA and WPA2 protocols have solved the vulnerability problem to an extent.
The area of application of Wi-Fi is huge. From connecting homes to access internet and share data, Wi-Fi can cover whole cities to provide a uniform transmission capability. Most campuses and offices today are Wi-Fi enabled, making it the only wireless technology to have such extensive accessibility.
Being truly wireless, like being truly automated, is perhaps one of the vital objectives of our digital progress. And if the current pace is any indication, we might achieve it soon enough.