Wireless wonders

If you thought you already lived in a wireless world, you haven’t seen anything yet. At least that’s the message from crystal-ball gazers at Ofcom, which this week published a study outlining a multitude of emerging new applications for wireless technology.

In its report, “Tomorrow’s Wireless World”, the communications industry regulator looks 10 to 20 years into the future, at a world where the ubiquity of wireless sensors has had a major impact on the way we live our lives.

According to Ofcom one of the biggest growth areas for wireless technology will be the healthcare industry- where networks of wearable or Implantable body sensors will be used to monitor patients’ vital signs. Such systems, which could be used to wirelessly transmit data form the body straight to a central computer promise to become a vital element in so-called assisted living systems, which will enable elderly people to continue living in their own homes for longer.

The report also looks at how wireless systems will continue to impact on the transport industry. The automotive sector in particular, already one of the world’s biggest sensor customers, is expected to use wireless technology to enable cars to communicate with each other, helping to avoid collisions by giving advance warning of sudden braking or traffic jams up ahead.

For regular readers of The Engineer, none of these applications will come as much of a surprise. Indeed, many of them are already beginning to happen.

But there is one potential stumbling block. The UK’s radio spectrum, which will underpin all of these exciting new technologies, is not a limitless resource. Indeed, reports last month suggested that Ofcom was worried enough about the finite nature of the resource to launch a review of broadcasting radio spectrum requirements ahead of the 2012 Olympics.

The message is clear. If the brave new world in the regulator’s report is to be become a reality, it must work closely with both industry and government to manage the radio spectrum effectively. If it does this, there could be some exciting times ahead for the UK’s numerous innovative sensor manufacturers.

Jon Excell, Features Editor