OAS Develops Infrared for Corporate Wireless Networking.
UK optical networking start-up Optical Antenna Solutions Ltd has developed a low-cost optical sensor that it believes can challenge 802.11 for business wireless networking.
The sensor, technically a near-infrared (IR) networking antenna known as a dielectric totally internally reflecting concentrator (DTIRC), can potentially provide bandwidths that can equal that of the corporate networking backbone, making it well suited for corporate applications.
The design of the component also allows considerable flexibility in deployment, unlike the line-of-sight infrared systems commonly deployed in today's handheld computers and mobile phones. Alex Clarke, global alliance manager with Coventry, UK-based OAS said the antenna can provide an acceptance angle of over 25% off center before the connection between devices fails while still achieving considerable performance benefits over current IR technologies.
With these capabilities a corporate networking topology using near-IR becomes feasible. "What if you were to use infrared in a pervasive manner, with a dome in the ceiling using a clever array of optics?" said Clarke. "Then you could have a dome on your PC [that could connect with the one on the ceiling]. It wouldn't be a roaming network as such but it's not a point-to-point network either. You don't have to line up the optics."
Clarke believes OAS's technology could gain acceptance in corporate networking as a result of the relatively finite amount of radio spectrum available for technologies such as 802.11, which currently operate in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. In between lie vast swathes of spectrum reserved for other radio technologies such as cellular networks, while beyond lies the microwave spectrum.
Adding weight to the idea of business uses for the technology - which has also been designed with applications such as medical test equipment and laser re-calibration in mind - is the interest corporate wireless networking vendors appear to have shown.
"Symbol [Technologies Inc] told me at Comdex that they were looking at networking infrared," said Clarke. "In order for 802.11 companies to gain more bandwidth you need a better system. It's like comparing an old Victorian steam train to a high-tech monorail."
OAS has already gained considerable interest from chip manufacturers interested in putting DTIRCs into production as a new class of component. The company has just scored a new partnership with Berlin, Germany-based opto-electronic sensor manufacturer Silicon Sensor International AG. Clarke said Mitsubishi, Pacer and Agilent were among others looking at the technology.
Furthermore, Clarke said DTIRCs could find their way into use by electronic payments giant Visa International Inc, which is actively pursuing IR as a means to prevent credit card fraud. Using DTIRC it becomes possible to make payments wirelessly, possibly via a mobile phone, without the need to point the device directly at the terminal, while retaining a high degree of security.
Clarke said OAS's technology could start to appear in commercial consumer electronics applications within 6 to 12 months, aided by a simple design that makes components based on DTIRC technology both cheaper to produce and considerably smaller than rival technologies.