Tower Power

The towers used to relay calls to cell-phone users are sprouting everywhere. But the skyrocketing demand for cell phones and for wireless Internet access overwhelms the relay stations’ capacity as fast as companies can erect them. A radio-frequency transistor technology created by electrical engineer Jayant Baliga at North Carolina State University could help stem the tide by allowing towers to handle 10 times their current signal capacity.

Baliga says his new chip design will make the transistors used in relaying calls cheaper and smaller, and it will boost the power of the towers’ signal amplifiers as well. That should allow wireless stations to handle more calls at once, send data faster and help avoid the interference that occasionally results in users overhearing others’ conversations. Baliga has founded a company called Silicon Wireless in Raleigh, NC, to commercialize the technology and has received funding from Fairchild Semiconductor. The first chips using the transistors could be in cell towers by the end of the year.

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From the latest smartphones to advances in quantum computing, the hardware behind today's digital age is rapidly changing.

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