Scientists in the United States are touting new technology that will allow Wi-Fi to transfer huge amounts of data over a very short distance.

Georgia Tech professor Joy Laskar and other scientists at the Georgia Electronic Design Center (GEDC) have used extremely high radio frequencies to transfer very large data files.

Traditionally Bluetooth and Wi-Fi have been considered efficient for transferring small amounts of data between gadgets, but neither technology is well suited for rapidly transferring large files, such as high-definition video.

The GEDC used a high frequency in the 60GHz band, and have achieved wireless data-transfer rates of 15Gbit/s over a span of one metre, according to the Associated Press. That translates into a download time of less than five seconds for a DVD-quality copy of a typical Hollywood movie.

The researchers believe these high frequencies are an untapped resource, as permission is not needed from the US government to use this spectrum, which (like the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands used by Wi-Fi) is unlicensed. This has previously led to talk of a goldrush in 60GHz spectrum.

“Certainly, the higher up the spectrum you go, the larger the amount of data you can carry,” said a spokesman for Ofcom in the UK. “But the problem is that the range is very limited.”

He pointed out the similarities of the high frequency technology to UWB (ultra-wideband) technology, which is finally reaching the market after years of wrangling between different engineering bodies and companies.

In the UK, UWB operates between the 3.1GHz and 10.6GHz band. From August 13, Ofcom removed the requirement for a licence to operate UWB equipment. In the US and Japan, UWB equipment is already exempt from the need to hold a licence.

Unlike higher frequencies, UWB currently has a maximum speed of about 480Mbit/s, which while sounding impressive, may not be enough for all applications.

Previously, specialised radios have been needed in order to send and receive high-frequency signals. The GEDC has been seeking to covert these specialised radios into small chips and reduce the cost of the equipment.

Laskar has set his sights on a $5 chip, and so far his researchers have apparently hammered together a few prototypes to show off the technology.

Laskar and his colleagues also believe that as the range of these very high frequencies will likely be less than 33 feet, interference is less likely and transmissions could be more secure.

A couple of years ago Ofcom admitted that because of the demand for spectrum in the highly congested lower frequency spectrum bands, there was now a need to consider the higher frequencies for communications systems.

The UK telecoms and broadcasting regulator is considering more licence-exempt spectrum, but has said that high frequency systems suffer much greater propagation losses, which make them unsuitable for long range applications. However, its research showed that the higher frequency bands could be useful for a range of applications, including:

  • Broadband fixed wireless access with very high capacities. This could allow applications such as HDTV to the home to be deployed on demand.
  • Fixed line of sight point-to-point links, where link lengths of up to 5km are possible with 99.99 percent availability, supporting short range backhaul.
  • High speed (1Gbit/s) short range wireless LANs, operating over a range of a few hundred metres. This could be used to provide a wireless access system for large buildings such as exhibition halls.
  • Short range repeaters (500m to 1km) with very high data rates of up to 5GHz for applications such as network backhaul. Such systems could be applied to a lamp post-mounted system for the provision of high bandwidth backhaul to a city-wide Wi-Fi network.

Ofcom said that it will publish its policy on the use of the 60GHz (and above) band later this year.