Wireless too slow? Try a 'multi-gigabit communication module'

October 1, 2012, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft
This optical wireless communication module can achieve a transmission rate of 3 Gbit/s. Credit: Fraunhofer IPMS/Jürgen Lösel

Digital cameras and camcorders deliver high resolution film sequences that are several gigabytes in size. These can take several minutes to transfer wirelessly to your home computer via Bluetooth. Now there is a speedy alternative: the "multi-gigabit communication module" is six times faster than a USB cable.

Whether it's a wedding, birthday party or other celebration, these days the chances are you'll have your camcorder with you to record the great occasion. But we often forget to bring the data cable along with us, so despite promising the hosts to transfer the images to their computer the morning after, we hardly ever do. "No problem," we say, "I'll burn you a CD when I get home." It would be so much easier, though, to transfer the data wirelessly.
This thought also occurred to Frank Deicke, a researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems IPMS in Dresden. There just had to be a way to transfer large amounts of data quickly and easily from one device to another. Obviously, wireless connections like Bluetooth or are now commonplace. But using them to copy high resolution video footage of an entire wedding reception to a computer takes a great deal of patience, as transferring several gigabytes of film data wirelessly can take several minutes. Deicke and his colleagues took a different approach. Deicke specializes in and, a few weeks ago, the researcher presented an infrared module the like of which has never been seen before. "It transfers data at a rate of 1 gigabit per second (Gbit/s). To put this into context, one e-mail character has a size of eight bits. The infrared module is able to transfer 125 million characters per second," says Deicke.

Faster than USB2, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

As a general rule, cable connections between are faster than wireless ones. In this case it is the other way around. The new "multi-gigabit communication module" is six times faster than a USB2 cable. A comparison with established wireless standards is even more impressive. The IPMS solution is 46 times faster than conventional Wi-Fi and 1430 times faster than a Bluetooth connection, as used to connect cell phones and earphone headsets, for example. This performance is above all due to high-speed signal processing. In data transfer, the bottleneck is the encoding and decoding of the data, which is to say the packing and unpacking necessary to send data through the air. Before setting off, video information from the first has to be converted into a radio signal. The receiving device, a laptop for example, then decodes the radio signal and converts it back into film data. All this costs processing time.

The challenge for the researcher and his team was to build a small infrared module with fast-working hardware and software. In addition, the processing time required should be minimal, because the harder the microprocessors have to work, the more electricity they eat up. "We achieved this ultimately through a clever combination of different technical solutions," says Deicke. One of these is the transceiver, an optical component which is able to send and receive light signals simultaneously. The transceiver is only about the size of a child's fingernail, but manages to fit in a laser diode to send light pulses and a photo detector to detect them. The decoders that receive and translate the encoded data are also crucial. Deicke and his colleagues had to program ingenious error-correction mechanisms, because the light signals become weakened and distorted in the air. Just like controlling a TV with its remote, there has to be a clear line of sight between sender and receiver. This is no problem for Frank Deicke: "You simply place the camera or the smartphone next to the computer or laptop." The video is transferred in just a few seconds.

The IPMS researchers are very much aware that manufacturers have to accept such technology as standard before it can catch on. Only then will it find its way into a wide variety of devices, enabling consumers to connect almost any laptop to any camera without problems. This is why Deicke is active in the Infrared Data Association, where among other things he contributes to the "10 Giga-IR working group". This makes his goal for the future obvious: to improve on 1 Gbit per second. "Our current infrared module has already demonstrated that infrared technology is able to go far beyond established standards. We plan to improve performance even more in the future." Deicke has already been able to show that the transfer rate of his current model can be raised to 3 Gbits. 10 Gbits cannot be very far off.

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not rated yet Oct 01, 2012
Who would ever try to transfer gigabytes of data over bluetooth? You just pop the memory card out and stick it in the card reader in your laptop.

It's all fine that your USB can theoretically transfer only so and so many bits per second when the memory cards themselves can't even do that. A class 10 SDHC card will only transfer at 10 Mb/s because flash memory in a small low-power form factor is - you'll be surprised by this: slow.

The fastest speed class, called UHS I is capable of around 300 Mb/s which is still well within USB 2.0's capabilities (480 Mb/s)
not rated yet Oct 01, 2012
A bit of clarification, the Secure Digital speed classes from 2 to 10 are in megaBytes, not bits, so to make things comparable you have speeds from 16 Mb/s to 80 Mb/s for the standard cards, and then you have an "x" rating like x66 or x100 cards that refer to standard CDROM speeds, so the fastest card at x100 transfers just about 123 Mb/s.

And the UHS I speed class is theoretically capable up to 400 Mb/s (50 MB/s) in some special mode, which is just able to saturate a USB 2.0 cable where the practical maximum throughput is 384 Mb/s without data compression.

But all that's just saying is, that you don't need a ten gigabit interface to read data off of a camera or a phone, because the device can't transmit that fast. The flash memories aren't fast enough, and anything you got in the near future isn't going to be.

The only reason SSDs are fast is because they have many flash chips working in parallel with the data interleaved between the chips. In a camera you only got one.

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