Employing electric waves rather than electromagnetic waves, this new Bluetooth replacement offers a low-power solution for close-range data transmission without compromising the high throughput required for multimedia applications.
Historically, wireless technologies like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and 5G have depended on electromagnetic modulation, a technique dating back over 125 years and primarily aimed at long-distance data transmission. The issue is that creating this modulation field uses a lot of power and can drain a battery fairly quickly.
In recent years, Bluetooth has developed a “Low Energy Version” (Bluetooth LE). While it does put less of a drain on a device’s power supply, it does have drawbacks, chiefly its limited bandwidth and data transfer speeds. Moreover, Bluetooth LE still becomes a battery hog when Bluetooth needs to be constantly on to maintain contact with a device, such as a paired smartphone and smartwatch.
The University of Sussex’s approach, known as electric field modulation, uses short-range electric waves. Compared to Bluetooth, these waves are significantly less power-intensive, making them a more sustainable and efficient choice for everyday technology interactions.
What is Electric Field Modulation?
Electric Field Modulation involves varying parameters of an electric field, such as amplitude or frequency, to encode and transmit data. Primarily suited for short-range communication, electric field modulation capitalizes on the localized nature of electric fields, which makes it less prone to interference and enhances its security aspects. Moreover, its low power consumption is key to its potential ability to be a Bluetooth killer. Without the need to generate electromagnetic waves, which can be energy-intensive, electric field modulation emerges as an energy-efficient alternative, especially appealing for battery-powered or energy-sensitive applications.
Its application potential is vast, particularly in proximity sensors, touch interfaces, and some near-field communication (NFC) tools. For example, the technology developed by the University of Sussex researchers could enable pretty novel interactions like exchanging phone numbers with a handshake or unlocking doors by touch.
Despite these promising advantages, electric field modulation has limitations, such as range. Bluetooth can generate a massive field that goes out in all directions, and while this can drain a device’s battery, users can enjoy a longer distance and remain connected. Additionally, the surrounding environment can influence its effectiveness, and there may be challenges in precision and interference from other electrical devices.
The Bluetooth Killer?
This remains to be seen.
The researchers are on to developing technology that could add unique and fun additions and advancements that shift towards a more intuitive and seamless integration of technology into daily life. Imagine only needing to touch the doorknob of your home, and using this technology, the doors would unlock.
According to the researchers, the technology is low-cost and can be integrated into a single chip, making it easy and economical to incorporate into a wide range of devices. This ease of integration and cost-effectiveness could incentivize manufacturers to adopt this technology over Bluetooth.
Professor Daniel Roggen, one of the researchers, highlights the significance of moving away from traditional electromagnetic modulation, which he describes as “inherently battery-hungry.” He explains that adopting electric field modulation improves the battery life of wearable technologies and smart home devices. This new method promises enhanced efficiency and opens doors to innovative ways to interact with smart home technology.
However, this technology is not alone, and multiple other technologies exist that compete with Bluetooth. Wi-Fi HaLow (IEEE 802.11ah), Zigbee (802.15.4), and Z-Wave are emerging as formidable contenders to Bluetooth, each offering unique advantages and disadvantages. While together, these technologies present a robust challenge to Bluetooth’s dominance, they have yet to unseat the proverbial data transfer king.
Perhaps the research presented by the team at the University of Sussex could lead to the end of Bluetooth.