In the past few years, researchers at Georgia Tech, MIT, Intel, and elsewhere have made great strides in developing millimeter-wave devices. Companies such as Intel have even started pushing for standards that could help develop interoperable technologies that operate at 60 gigahertz. And one company, Gigabeam, has rolled out products that can achieve around one gigabit per second using a point-to-point link over a few hundred meters.
Ridgway explains that using telecommunication lasers has two big advantages. First, they are high power, so the resulting millimeter wave is also of relatively high power. Second, the lasers have been engineered to be stable and dependable, producing a signal that doesn’t fluctuate much compared with standard millimeter-wave sources.
Alan Crouch, director of the Communications Technology Lab at Intel, says that the Battelle work is further evidence that millimeter-wave technology could become increasingly important. “There’s demand for more and more wireless communication solutions in this space,” he says, adding that “there is strong industry interest.”
But the research may be years away from being deployed in a product. Ridgway explains that, since the system has been put together from existing components, it’s much larger than it ultimately needs to be. In addition, a property of the signal called polarization, which plays a role in encoding data, tends to drift during operation, which means that the system requires attention when running. But Ridgway hopes that, with some more engineering, these problems can be ironed out. “We’d like to get it to a point where you could just turn on and go,” he says.