Could This Be The Next Wireless Revolution?
First what you need to know about it, and then the hard stuff. The application of Phiar‘s metal-insulator quantum tunneling technology leads to the ability to wirelessly transmit huge amounts of data quickly without the signal breaching the drywall of the room you’re in.
It also means microchips that communicate wirelessly, and – a bit down the road – medical imaging technology much more precise and cheaper, at the terahertz level.
Imagine you want to wirelessly transfer a high definition movie from your Apple TV to you mobile device. Sounds like it might take forever, but according to Adam Rentschler, director of business development for Phiar, it wouldn’t if using gadgets equipped with this new radio technology.
"If I have a radio that’s fast enough to that," he said, "then my calendar and my contacts will be super fast."
The signal would travel on the 60 GHz unlicensed spectrum, a frequency previously unusable without the technology to access it. Unlike the 700 MHz spectrum major players like Google, Verizon, and AT&T are vying for because of its ability to penetrate walls, mountains, trees – whatever – this spectrum won’t even penetrate the next room. The idea then, is that whatever wireless activity you’re doing in one room won’t interfere the signal in another room.
It could also make a digital-theft-wary Hollywood very happy as well, as it also means your wireless Internet setup won’t bleed out into your neighbor’s house. Then again, if you wanted it to bleed into the next room, it wouldn’t.
Nonetheless, Rentschler says Phiar has entered a joint development agreement with Motorola, and with a European company yet to be announced. Similar technology, gallium-arsenide diodes, was previously only deployed on satellites. Rentschler says Phiar’s diode beat it in millimeter wave detection, making it a class above satellite technology for five times cheaper.
This is where it starts to get complicated, so if you’d like to bail, I won’t be offended.
Renstchler hearkens back to the first introduction of semiconductors, when vacuum tubes were still superior. Over a short period time, obviously, that changed. He says we’re at the same point in history with amorphous thin film technology that works via the principle of quantum tunneling, as only diodes are possible now, and transistors are years down the road. Instead of hazarding a less-than-stellar explanation, check out Phiar’s website for visual and textual explanations of quantum tunneling.
This method allows for radio reception as lightweight and low power as an old-fashioned crystal radio, yet it much more information can be sent and received. Because the technology is thin and amorphous, it allows analog electronics to be built on silicon-based digital CMOS chips. Think of it as a very small antenna placed right on the microchip. But the technology takes it beyond the physical limits of semiconductors.
Rentschler says you could throw these chips into a bag, and they would be able to communicate and wirelessly configure themselves.
Many of the applications, including the development of these chips are still years from completion, and the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t even have existing regulation for the frequencies they operate on. "The inherent physics of our devices will allows us to build radios that will have carrier frequencies at 1-2 terahertz."
The FCC regulates up to 275 GHz. "So we’re in the Wild West in sub-millimeter frequencies."
Phiar will be selling its first commercial product in 2009.