Laying the groundwork for a new mobile infrastructure is extremely complex, expensive and highly contentious, as seen with the clumsy rollout of the 4G network. But imagine if towering base station transmitters were no longer a part of the equation and, instead, the wireless network was connected by humans?
That possibility is currently being weighed, as a study being conducted at Queens Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT) in Belfast, Ireland, involves small sensors being carried by members of the public through devices such as next-generation smartphones which could communicate with each other.
According to the study, as those sensors interact and transmit data between each other, the connection would create a potential body-to-body network (BBN), allowing for far lower power requirements than a traditional antenna, while creating broader coverage, and the capability to adapt to demand.
The sensors wouldnt necessarily be limited to advanced smartphones either. Researchers from Queens Institute suggest tiny sensors could be embedded in clothes or cars.
Today, a call from a cell phone is transmitted through a station tower. But if too many users in a single location are calling at the same time, the connection grows thinner and thinner. A body-to-body network, however, would create a stronger connection as each participant would piggy-back its signal to another nearby carrier, then to the next until it reaches its eventual destination.
In the past few years, a significant amount of research has been undertaken into antennae and systems designed to share information across the surface of the human body, said Simon Cotton, a researcher from ECITs wireless communications research group. Until now, however, little work has been done to address the next major challenge, which is one of the last frontiers in wireless communication: how that information can be transferred efficiently to an off-body location.
Body-to-body networks could bring great social benefits, he added, including healthcare improvements through the use of body-worn sensors for widespread, routine monitoring and treatment of illness away from medical centers. It could also be applied to monitoring athletes or provide real-time tactical training in team sports.
Cotton estimates that though wearable wireless sensors are only now in their infancy, the market will grow to more than 400 million devices annually by 2014.