Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 1/8/2005Yow! Much radio fun to start the week.

Monday 1/8/2005

Yow! Much radio fun to start the week. The world long distance record for unamplified Wi-Fi connections has been ground into dust by a team at the DefCon Wi-Fi Shootout: using unmodified cards, they managed to get a strong signal over 125 miles between Utah and Nevada. Admittedly, this was with the help of 12 and 10 foot diameter satellite dishes – so it's not exactly laptop compatible – and along that most RF-friendly of geographies, a river valley, but still stonking stuff. They're going to try it with Bluetooth next. Should make things more fun for naughty people who are keen to leach other people's bandwidth but don't fancy getting arrested: you could stand in Bristol and nick a signal from Bromley.

And then there's Zigbee. The first stand-alone radios have just appeared. This promises to make all that tacky yet tempting home automation happen, letting you control your lights, fires and other domestic gizmos from your computer. Or someone else's computer – possibly even a hacker in Bristol with a modified Sky dish. Can't wait.

There's even something quite excitingly new. I'd heard about xG Technology a few weeks ago, a Florida-based company making remarkable claims about an invention. This, xG said, is a new kind of radio data link capable of much greater distances and much faster speeds than before, all at lower power. The web site didn't say much about how this was supposed to work, and I was suspicious – we've had plenty of examples of 'too good to be true' inventions before that fell apart under a hard glare, such as Silkroad's whacky fibre-optics transmission system that relied on incomprehensible quantum effects on photon polarisation.

Now, however, I get the CEO on the blower and have a long natter. He's still not saying exactly what's going on, but he does let a few more cats' whiskers out of the bag. The main magic lives in the receiver, which he claims has the ability to reject nearly all interference and man-made radio noise. If his claimed figures are right, then this means signals many thousand times weaker than normal can be used to carry information – and stronger signals will appear correspondingly more powerful. There's a lot more which I'll leave for a longer article on Monday, but I came away from the phone call much more convinced that xG has something worth watching. If it all works as claimed, we'll be able to have phone networks carrying very fast data with many fewer base stations than before – and much better battery life.

Genuine innovation. I'd almost forgotten what that tasted like.