Wireless communication (or just wireless, when the context allows) is the transfer of information between two or more points that do not use an electrical conductor as a medium by which to perform the transfer. The most common wireless technologies use radio waves. With radio waves, intended distances can be short, such as a few meters for Bluetooth or as far as millions of kilometers for deep-space radio communications. It encompasses various types of fixed, mobile, and portable applications, including two-way radios, cellular telephones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and wireless networking. Other examples of applications of radio wireless technology include GPS units, garage door openers, wireless computer mouse, keyboards and headsets, headphones, radio receivers, satellite television, broadcast television and cordless telephones. Somewhat less common methods of achieving wireless communications include the use of other electromagnetic wireless technologies, such as light, magnetic, or electric fields or the use of sound.
The term wireless has been used twice in communications history, with slightly different meaning. It was initially used from about 1890 for the first radio transmitting and receiving technology, as in wireless telegraphy, until the new word radio replaced it around 1920. Radios in the UK that were not portable continued to be referred to as wireless sets into the 1960s. The term was revived in the 1980s and 1990s mainly to distinguish digital devices that communicate without wires, such as the examples listed in the previous paragraph, from those that require wires or cables. This became its primary usage in the 2000s, due to the advent of technologies such as mobile broadband, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Wireless operations permit services, such as mobile and interplanetary communications, that are impossible or impractical to implement with the use of wires. The term is commonly used in the telecommunications industry to refer to telecommunications systems (e.g. radio transmitters and receivers, remote controls, etc.) which use some form of energy (e.g. radio waves, acoustic energy,) to transfer information without the use of wires. Information is transferred in this manner over both short and long distances.
The first wireless telephone conversation occurred in 1880, when Alexander Graham Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter invented the photophone, a telephone that sent audio over a beam of light. The photophone required sunlight to operate, and a clear line of sight between transmitter and receiver. These factors greatly decreased the viability of the photophone in any practical use. It would be several decades before the photophone's principles found their first practical applications in military communications and later in fiber-optic communications.
A number of wireless electrical signaling schemes including sending electric currents through water and the ground using electrostatic and electromagnetic induction were investigated for telegraphy in the late 19th century before practical radio systems became available. These included a patented induction system by Thomas Edison allowing a telegraph on a running train to connect with telegraph wires running parallel to the tracks, a William Preece induction telegraph system for sending messages across bodies of water, and several operational and proposed telegraphy and voice earth conduction systems.
The Edison system was used by stranded trains during the Great Blizzard of 1888 and earth conductive systems found limited use between trenches during World War I but these systems were never successful economically.
In 1894, Guglielmo Marconi began developing a wireless telegraph system using radio waves, which had been known about since proof of their existence in 1888 by Heinrich Hertz, but discounted as a communication format since they seemed, at the time, to be a short range phenomenon. Marconi soon developed a system that was transmitting signals way beyond distances anyone could have predicted (due in part to the signals bouncing off the then unknown ionosphere). Marconi and Karl Ferdinand Braun were awarded the 1909 Nobel Prize for Physics for their contribution to this form of wireless telegraphy.
Millimetre wave communication was first investigated by Jagadish Chandra Bose during 1894-1896, when he reached an extremely high frequency of up to 60GHz in his experiments. He also introduced the use of semiconductor junctions to detect radio waves, when he patented the radio crystal detector in 1901.
The wireless revolution began in the 1990s, with the advent of digital wireless networks leading to a social revolution, and a paradigm shift from wired to wireless technology, including the proliferation of commercial wireless technologies such as cell phones, mobile telephony, pagers, wireless computer networks, cellular networks, the wireless Internet, and laptop and handheld computers with wireless connections. The wireless revolution has been driven by advances in radio frequency (RF) and microwave engineering, and the transition from analog to digital RF technology, which enabled a substantial increase in voice traffic along with the delivery of digital data such as text messaging, images and streaming media.
Wireless communications can be via:
Free-space optical communication (FSO) is an optical communication technology that uses light propagating in free space to transmit wirelessly data for telecommunications or computer networking. "Free space" means the light beams travel through the open air or outer space. This contrasts with other communication technologies that use light beams traveling through transmission lines such as optical fiber or dielectric "light pipes".
The technology is useful where physical connections are impractical due to high costs or other considerations. For example, free space optical links are used in cities between office buildings which are not wired for networking, where the cost of running cable through the building and under the street would be prohibitive. Another widely used example is consumer IR devices such as remote controls and IrDA (Infrared Data Association) networking, which is used as an alternative to WiFi networking to allow laptops, PDAs, printers, and digital cameras to exchange data.
Sonic, especially ultrasonic short range communication involves the transmission and reception of sound.
Common examples of wireless equipment include:
AM and FM radios and other electronic devices make use of the electromagnetic spectrum. The frequencies of the radio spectrum that are available for use for communication are treated as a public resource and are regulated by organizations such as the American Federal Communications Commission, Ofcom in the United Kingdom, the international ITU-R or the European ETSI. Their regulations determine which frequency ranges can be used for what purpose and by whom. In the absence of such control or alternative arrangements such as a privatized electromagnetic spectrum, chaos might result if, for example, airlines did not have specific frequencies to work under and an amateur radio operator was interfering with a pilot's ability to land an aircraft. Wireless communication spans the spectrum from 9 kHz to 300 GHz.
One of the best-known examples of wireless technology is the mobile phone, also known as a cellular phone, with more than 6.6 billion mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide as of the end of 2010. These wireless phones use radio waves from signal-transmission towers to enable their users to make phone calls from many locations worldwide. They can be used within range of the mobile telephone site used to house the equipment required to transmit and receive the radio signals from these instruments.
Wireless data communications allows wireless networking between desktop computers, laptops, tablet computers, cell phones and other related devices. The various available technologies differ in local availability, coverage range and performance, and in some circumstances users employ multiple connection types and switch between them using connection manager software or a mobile VPN to handle the multiple connections as a secure, single virtual network. Supporting technologies include:
Wireless data communications are used to span a distance beyond the capabilities of typical cabling in point-to-point communication and point-to-multipoint communication, to provide a backup communications link in case of normal network failure, to link portable or temporary workstations, to overcome situations where normal cabling is difficult or financially impractical, or to remotely connect mobile users or networks.
Peripheral devices in computing can also be connected wirelessly, as part of a Wi-Fi network or directly via an optical or radio-frequency (RF) peripheral interface. Originally these units used bulky, highly local transceivers to mediate between a computer and a keyboard and mouse; however, more recent generations have used smaller, higher-performance devices. Radio-frequency interfaces, such as Bluetooth or Wireless USB, provide greater ranges of efficient use, usually up to 10 feet, but distance, physical obstacles, competing signals, and even human bodies can all degrade the signal quality. Concerns about the security of wireless keyboards arose at the end of 2007, when it was revealed that Microsoft's implementation of encryption in some of its 27 MHz models was highly insecure.
Wireless energy transfer is a process whereby electrical energy is transmitted from a power source to an electrical load that does not have a built-in power source, without the use of interconnecting wires. There are two different fundamental methods for wireless energy transfer. Energy can be transferred using either far-field methods that involve beaming power/lasers, radio or microwave transmissions or near-field using electromagnetic induction. Wireless energy transfer may be combined with wireless information transmission in what is known as Wireless Powered Communication. In 2015, researchers at the University of Washington demonstrated far-field energy transfer using Wi-Fi signals to power cameras.
New wireless technologies, such as mobile body area networks (MBAN), have the capability to monitor blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen level and body temperature. The MBAN works by sending low powered wireless signals to receivers that feed into nursing stations or monitoring sites. This technology helps with the intentional and unintentional risk of infection or disconnection that arise from wired connections.