Wi-Fi is about to enter another dimension

Illo by Amada44, CC BY-SA 4.0

Illo by Amada44, CC BY-SA 4.0

  • 3D Wi-Fi chips are under development
  • They should eliminate traffic congestion on Wi-Fi networks
  • Current 2D chips carry a limited number of frequencies, while 3D chips can carry multiplicities simultaneously
  • Big potential for the future of smart cities

Wi-Fi networks are among the most popular internet access modes in the world but are often prone to congestion and a poor user experience. Now, though, there appears to be a technology solution to that perennial problem – 3D Wi-Fi chips.     

Wi-Fi is a major money-spinner for the companies that manufacture the enabling chipsets, such as Qualcomm, Broadcom, Intel, MediaTek and more, with the sector estimated to have been worth $23.85bn in 2022 and set to grow to be worth $35.91bn by 2030. Several factors are driving the continuing growth of the global Wi-Fi chipset market, including the increasing reliance on the access technology amongst enterprises and organisations, the proliferation of public Wi-Fi hotspots and the global mass adoption of connected internet of things (IoT) devices. These factors are also driving demand for faster data transfer and expanded internet access in developing markets. 

Currently, though, Wi-Fi connections are prone to slowing down, frequently to the point of uselessness, depending on the number of people and devices connected to access points, and that problem is only going to worsen due to the increasing number of connected devices in the world plus the potential but inevitable problem that will arise as AI proliferates.

The congestion, slowdowns and traffic bottlenecks happen because, until now, almost all wireless comms are enabled by so-called ‘planar’ processors, devices that are as flat as electronic pancakes and emit only an equally flat range of signals. Furthermore, being essentially two-dimensional, planar processors are two-way devices, and that limits the number of frequencies that can be used which, in turn, can result in data traffic congestion. 

The solution? 3D Wi-Fi processors that can accommodate multiple frequencies at the same time. According to the UK-published peer-reviewed academic journal Nature Electronics, a considerable amount of research is now being undertaken into the feasibility of making such devices to revolutionise Wi-Fi as we know and experience it. The technology is being researched around the world and it seems a team of scientists from the University of Florida is close to a solution. Those researchers have successfully moved from two-dimensional to three-dimensional processors that massively increase the efficiency of Wi-Fi data transmission and provide infinite scalability whilst also reducing the device’s footprint. The 3D chips will be no longer, wider or bigger than 2D chips, but will have plenty of scope to accommodate more or less any increase in the demands on Wi-Fi connections.

Dr. Roozbeh Tabrizian, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Florida who is leading the team developing the 3D chip processor, noted in this announcement that “one chip manufactured for just one frequency doesn’t make sense any more.” He believes the research “marks a pivotal moment in the evolution of wireless communication as the world becomes increasingly reliant on seamless connectivity and real-time data exchange.” He added: “The ability to transmit data more efficiently and reliably will open doors to new possibilities, fuelling advancements in areas such as smart cities, remote healthcare, and augmented reality.”

Dr. Tabrizian and his team – Faysal Hakim, Nicholas Rudawski and Troy Tharpe – have been working on the feasibility of 3D Wi-Fi chips since 2019. They have used traditional complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology to build the three-dimensional nanomechanical resonator. “By harnessing the strengths of semiconductor technologies in integration, routing and packaging, we can integrate different frequency-dependent processors on the same chip. That’s a huge benefit,” he noted.

Dr. Tabrizian’s optimism is echoed by Professor David Arnold, the associate chair for faculty affairs in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Florida. He says, “This entirely new type of spectral processor, which integrates different frequencies on one monolithic chip, is truly a game changer. Dr. Tabrizian’s new approach for multiband, frequency-agile radio chipsets not only solves a huge manufacturing challenge but it also allows designers to imagine entirely new communication strategies in an increasingly congested wireless world. Put more simply, our wireless devices will work better, faster, and more securely.”

If, or when, 3D Wi-Fi processors capable of handling multiple frequencies simultaneously are manufactured at commercial levels, it will have a profound effect on AI and IoT applications by providing the capability to power internal communication between multiple smart devices. And, it seems, it will have a massive impact in supporting the infrastructure and networks required for the development of smart cities and help to make them even more efficient in terms of connectivity and data collection.

Currently, data in our cellphones and tablets are converted into electromagnetic waves that propagate back and forth among billions of users. Much like highway design and traffic lights ensure traffic flows efficiently through a city, filters, or spectral processors, move the data across different frequencies. A city’s infrastructure can only handle a certain level of traffic, and if you keep increasing the volume of cars, you have a problem,” noted Dr. Tabrizian. “We’re starting to reach the maximum amount of data we can move efficiently. The planar structure of processors is no longer practical as they limit us to a very limited span of frequencies.”

– Martyn Warwick, Editor in Chief, TelecomTV

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