Tag: wireless

Semi sales rose in May

cashRevenues from semiconductors during May totalled $2.873 billion, said the European Semiconductor Industry Association (ESIA).

But while those revenues were similar to those in April 2015, EISA said there were “some remarkable areas of strength” in May with increased demand for several product categories.

Sales of discrete semiconductor devices rose by 3.7 percent, diodes by five percent, and optoelectronics by 6.7 percent.

And, said EISA, if measured in Euro, the market showed “very strong growth” compared to May 2014, an illustration of the effect exchange rate fluctuations have on sales in Europe.

In May 2015, worldwide, sales of semiconductors for the automotive, consumer, wireless and wired comms applications went well. Worldwide, sales were up 5.1 percent compared to May 2014.

EISA released a graph showing monthly European semiconductor sales development between January 2011 until now.

Semiconductor sales in Europe up till May 2015

Marconi invented something useful after all

marconiThe Italian Brit who is famous for inventing the radio when he didn’t might have come up with a real idea after all and could be the brains behind a new form of wireless chip antenna.

Cambridge engineer Gehan Amaratunga, was looking at Guglielmo Marconi’s British patent application from 1900, known as 7777 , and he spotted a little noticed detail.

A transmitter was linked to an antenna connected to a coil, which had one end dangling while the RF signal was fed to the middle of the coil.

This idea is pretty crazy, but the asymmetric coupling between the spark generator and the antenna allowed the transformation of the RF electric signal into electromagnetic radiation.

The researchers realized that it was this asymmetry, or “broken symmetry,” a concept borrowed from quantum theory, that explained the generation of electromagnetic waves in Marconi’s transmitter.

The UK team thought that symmetry breaking explained why dielectric matter can transmits electromagnetic waves.

Dhiraj Sinha said that until now this was not well understood.  “Dielectric antennas are already in use, but they are too bulky for on-chip use. Instead of the dielectric materials in use today.

Sinha and his colleagues chose a piezoelectric film. “Normal dielectric antennas are limited by fabrication technologies because we cannot get dielectric materials in thin-film form. Piezoelectric materials can be in thin film form and their thickness can be in the order of 100 to 20 micrometers,” says Sinha.

The researchers used piezoelectric filters that consist of two interdigitated contacts deposited on a piezoelectric film, devices similar to crystal frequency filters now used in cell phones. When excited in a symmetric mode, they act as a simple L-C circuit.

When excited in an asymmetric mode, one of the two interdigital contacts was excited while the other interdigital contact was left floating, the piezoelectric filter acted as a monopole antenna, in fact, in a way comparable to the antenna described by Marconi in 1900.

The new antennas had an efficiency of up to 60 percent and could radiate one watt of power, which about what’s needed by most portable devices.

For their next experiments they will try to create dielectric antennae for longer wavelengths. “We are thinking of bands between 200 and 600 MHz, they are interesting, we could, for example, replace large television antennae by smaller ones,” says Sinha.

NSA spied on 100,000 computers

The New York Times has revealed that the National Security Agency has installed software in 100,000 computers around the world allowing it to carry out surveillance on them.

Most of the software was installed by getting access to computer networks, but has also used a secret technology that allows it entry even to computers not connected to the Internet, the Times claimed.

The Times was quoting documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The technology had been in use since at least 2008 and relied on a covert channel of radio waves transmitted from tiny circuit boards and USB cards secretly inserted in the computers. It fixed one of the biggest problems facing American intelligence agencies for years: getting into computers that people have tried to make impervious to spying or cyberattack.

Targets of the programme, code-named Quantum, have included units of the Chinese military, which ironically Washington has accused of conducting digital attacks on U.S. military and industrial targets.

Quantum was installed in Russian military networks as well as systems used by Mexican police and drug cartels, European Union trade institutions and allies such as Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan.But it could not penetrate my computer because my computer is not connected to the interweb. 

Move over, Moore’s Law

Compound semiconductors are used in satellites and fibre optics and connectivity is the name of the game. That’s according to  Drew Nelson, CEO of IQE.

According to Nelson, IQE has 650 staff at 11 manufacturing operations around the world,  and has been going for 25 years. It leads in several markets and supplies half of the wafers that go into wireless devices.

Nelson said Gordon Moore, the inventor of Moore’s Law, “is a very clever fellow” and recognised a trend. Humans find ways to make things faster and cheaper and will continue, but probably in a different way over the next 20 years.  And he thinks compound semis will play a major role in this different kind of Moore’s Law.

Silicon is approaching its limits, according to Nelson, but compound semiconductors have very much more functionality and flexibility.  The material properties of compound semis are fundamentally better than silicon. From a power perspective compound semis have a clear lead over silicon.  

In compound semis you can mix all sorts of different materials together. IQE sells wafers to chip companies, and the trends driving its adoption are high speed connectivity, efficient energy, and safety and security, Nelson said.  

He said that in the third generation solar panels will be vastly more efficient than the current generation, and based on compound semis.  He believes that PV based on compound semis (CPV) will be over 50 percent efficient, compared to silicon PV at around 44 percent.

There are also big market opportunities for GaN on Si (Gallium Nitride on Silicon) in the LED market too, because of its superior switching properties and efficiencies.

Intel announces Bay Trail tablet CPU, part two

[Part one is here]

Kirk Skaugen, senior VP General Manager PC Client Group at Intel took over in the second half of Wednesday’s IDF Keynote presentation. He began talking about the “2 in 1” computing platform. That raises the question: Have Ultrabooks slipped off Intel’s road map just when HP is announcing its HP ZBook 14 Ultra Workstation?

Kirk Skaugen


Perhaps they are simply not selling in the volume predicted at a couple past IDFs when Ultrabooks were announced? Skaugen put it this way: “Now we’ve stopped counting [OEM designs], and assumed that the entire world has gone thin”. He added that more than 40 percent of all Core notebooks have been designed with touch. Seventy percent of today’s Ultrabooks are touch-enabled, on the way to 100 percent touch later this year.

Skaugen said by this year’s holidays, the 2-in-1 form factor will be selling in the $999 down to $349 price range. He said that by the year’s end, there will be 60 2-in-1 devices in that future marketplace. Examples he showed were the Sony Duo 13-inch slider, the Dell XP 11, the Sony detachable – which only weighs 780 grams and handles both wired and wireless, and the Dell XP 12, which is a flip screen. An application from CyberLink will be provided on Haswell machines by the end of the year to energise content creation.

Skaugen handed over to Tami Reeler, Microsoft VP who discussed the Windows 8.1 released to developers. There was the usual sales story about how wonderful Windows 8 is.

In August, Windows 8 had the highest demand and sales, which was probably prompted by the back to school movement. She discussed Windows XP and its end of support in April 2014. She also claimed that “three quarters of the corporate users have moved to a modern Windows from Windows XP” – but she didn’t specify whether they were using Windows 7 or Windows 8.x.

Tami Reeler talks Windows 8 with Kirk Skaugen

Intel says that it has the business community handled with fourth generation core CPUs, SST Pro 1500 SSD, location-based security in the enterprise, and its new Pro-WiDI plus password free VPN connections – which got a round of applause from the audience.

Mario Müller, VP of IT Infrastructure at BMW, was next to join Kirk Skaugen on stage. There was some banter about a new BMW for everybody in the audience. Müller said that 55,000 of its 120,000 employees will be getting core i5 computers, but none of the audience will be receiving a BMW, unfortunately.

Mario Müller and Kirk Skaugen discussing new BMW i8 Plug-In Hybrid Sports Car 

Skaugen returned to topic saying that Bay Trail has 140 design wins and it runs all operating systems faster – Android, iOS, Chrome, and Linux. He talked about the Cinnabar benchmark using the fourth generation Broadwell 14 nm CPU. The chips will include AVX 3.2, DDR4 and PCI Express 4.0 support among their improved feature set.

Bay Trail SoCs are aimed at tablets and convertibles with screen sizes priced at $599 or below and will ship in tablets running Windows 8 and Android, ranging down to below $100 in price. When Chinese tablet OEMs start selling $100 price point 7-inch tablets with Bay Trail inside, then Intel will have to be taken very seriously by the ARM and MIPS partners.

Sony Duo slider as a tablet 

The discussions turned towards 3D. By Q2 2014, Intel predicts there will be collaboration over a 3D camera specification that will be implemented into Ultrabooks. We were told that Intel has had high numbers of downloads for its 3D SDK. It has the $100,000,000 Experience  and the Perceptual Computing Fund to work with.

Skaugen showed a 2D/3D camera that fits into the bezel of an Ultrabook. He gave an example of 3D functionality with a video showing children playing with an Ultrabook which had a 3D camera installed. Their expressions were of surprised joy.

3D developers should be glad to know that Project Anarchy is a free 3D game production engine and is ready to be downloaded and used.

Gonzague de Vallois, VP Sales and Marketing for Gameloft, showed off the company’s latest Android 3D auto racing game, referred to as Asphalt 8: Airborne, which takes advantage of Bay Trail and 3D graphics. At $4.99 it’s pretty affordable.

Gameloft’s Asphalt 8, for Android

Sundar Pichai, Senior VP Android Chrome & Apps at Google talked about the just-introduced Haswell CPU Chromebook and its stunning performance, extended battery life, and 3D capabilities. He also presented Doug Fisher from Intel’s Software and Services Group with an official Google Beanie cap – what a new hire at Google wears for their first days. After Pichai left the stage, Fisher said something about ‘that is a give away’.

Sundar Pichai gives Doug Fisher a Google Beanie

Over 1,000 Intel engineers are working on Google Android and Chrome.

Research firm NPD says Chromebooks represent 20-25 percent of the $300-or-less computer segment. Clearly, Intel has embraced Google’s Android and Chrome operating systems as a target market to put a lot of “Intel Inside”. 

Ossia comes up with a wireless power charger

A new gadget which can charge your device from 30 feet away, even through walls, has been developed by a start-up called Ossia.

Ossia is the brainchild of physicist Hatem Zeine, who decided to focus on delivering wireless power in a way that was commercially viable, both for large-scale industrial applications and for consumer use.

The first fruit of his labours is called the Cota and Zeine has presented the first public demo.

According to Techcrunchthe Cota prototype can deliver power wirelessly to devices over distances of around 10 feet. This is 10 percent of the original source power using unlicensed spectrum.

Zeine formed Ossia in 2008 and continued to file patents, and he says now the company has a better idea of how it all works. It built the demo prototype and has another in the works to show off later this year.

Cota has the same kind of health risks that wi-fi in-home does although, since no-one is really sure about if wi-fi is toxic or not, the jury might still be out on that one.

Zeine said that Cota can deliver one watt of power at a distance of 30 feet. He showed an iPhone 5 being charged remotely from his version one prototype wireless power transmitter.

The next stage is to develop a commercial-grade product. This would replace wired power connections for sensors and monitors in sensitive facilities like oil and gas refineries with wirelessly powered devices. This means fewer opportunities for generating sparks, since there are fewer live cables lying around.

Commercialised versions should be ready to ship in the next couple of months.

In the future it should possible to build devices like phones and remotes with only small batteries, that are constantly topped off and that never need to be plugged in. They will be effectively “charging” all the time.

The Cota will cost $100 and about the size of a large tower PC once consumerised. It will probably become smaller when it is developed using custom parts.

It does not require line-of-sight as the signal can go around walls and through walls just like a wi-fi signal. 

Ambient backscatter threatens end of batteries

A team of researchers at the University of Washington have emerged from their smoke filled labs with a new wireless communication system that allows devices to interact with each other without relying on batteries or wires.

The gear uses ambient backscatter technology to interact with users and communicate with each other without using batteries. They exchange information by reflecting or absorbing pre-existing radio signals.

This takes advantage of the TV and mobile transmissions that already surround us. The two devices piggy back on the existing signals using built small, battery-free devices. They need antennas that can detect, harness and reflect a TV signal and that is all.

It means that it could be possible to have a network of devices and sensors to communicate with no power source or human attention.

Lead researcher Shyam Gollakota, a UW assistant professor of computer science and engineering, said that it is possible to repurpose wireless signals that are already around us into both a source of power and for communication.

This will be important in areas like wearable computing, smart homes and self-sustaining sensor networks.

The team published their results at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Data Communication 2013 shindig in Hong Kong, MIT Technology Review reports.

They received the conference’s best-paper award for their research.

Everyday objects could also be enabled with battery-free tags to communicate with each other. One example is a sofa which could use ambient backscatter to let the user know where they left a set of keys.

The receiving devices picked up a signal from their transmitting counterparts at a rate of 1 kilobit per second when up to 2.5 feet apart outdoors and 1.5 feet apart indoors. This is enough to send information such as a sensor reading, text messages and contact information. 

Boeing replaces humans with sacks of potatoes

Boeing has found a way to test wireless signals onboard its planes, using the pinnacle of aviation technology – a sack of potatoes.

The aircraft manufacturer’s engineers were faced with a quandary when testing inflight radio signal quality. Planes are increasingly making use of in-flight wireless systems, but there is the potential that they can interfere with a plane’s electrical systems.

Ensuring that there is a strong enough signal to meet regulatory standards, while also delivering a usable wireless signal, requires engineers tweaking the systems, and that can take a lot of time, even up to two weeks.    

To accurately replicate flight situations, testing would also require the presence of a cabin full of humans sitting in passenger seats on a dummy flight.

However, Boeing engineers found a way to resolve testing problems was by substituting humans for large sacks of potatoes.

Apparently the vegetables behave in a very similar way to humans on a plane.  This means they are able to block out radio waves as they pass through the cabin, just as a human would, though they are less likely to demand free beer or ask to meet the pilot. 

To speed up wireless signal testing, Boeing staff filled seats on one of its decommissioned aircraft with 20,000 sacks of potatoes.

Aside from doing little to dispel perceptions that modern airlines treat passengers little better than freighted cargo, the test enabled engineers to successfully tweak wireless signals in a fraction of the time, taking just ten hours.

Test data was then validated with non-vegetable passengers, with Boeing claiming that the end result is greater reliability and safety on its flights.

And the name of the tuber testing method put in place by the engineers?  That would be Synthetic Personnel Using Dielectric Substitution, or, abbreviated, SPUDS – of course.


Sprint snaps up the rest of Clearwire for $2.2 billion

US telecoms provider Sprint has purchased the remainder of Clearwire in a deal worth $2.2 billion.

Sprint announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire the remaining 50 percent of the firm, following its previous investment in the mobile broadband company.  

The deal saw Sprint pay $2.97 per share, valuing the firm at a total of $10 billion, including net debt and spectrum lease obligations of $5.5 billion.   This meant an increase on the $2.60 per share that Sprint originally offered in its first bid last month.

The deal will see $800 million of additional financing available to Clearwire in the form of exchangeable notes, according to a Sprint statement.

The transaction was unanimously approved by Clearwire’s board, with shareholding companies such as Comcast and Intel indicating their support for the deal.  

Softbank, which has acquired 70 percent of Sprint, also gave the thumbs up to the deal.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, who recently took a paycut, said that the deal will enable the firm to make the most of ClearWire’s wireless spectrum, adding it to its own network capacity.

“Today’s transaction marks yet another significant step in Sprint’s improved competitive position and ability to offer customers better products, more choices and better services,” Hesse said.  “Sprint is uniquely positioned to maximise the value of Clearwire’s spectrum and efficiently deploy it to increase Sprint’s network capacity.” 

He added: “We believe this transaction, particularly when leveraged with our SoftBank relationship, is further validation of our strategy and allows Sprint to control its network destiny.”

The deal is expected to be finalised in during the middle of 2013, coinciding with SoftBank’s investment in Sprint.

IDT reveals Intel deal

Analogue chipmaker Integrated Device Technology has revealed that it will be developing a transmitter and receiver chipset for Intel products.

According to Reuters, the idea is that the Intel chipsets will be able to charge a mobile phone placed next to them.

The wireless charging integrated circuits, or little chips that will be used mainly in smartphones, Intel’s Ultrabook mini notebooks and computers.

Integrated Device said that Intel’s cash will help cut costs and improve the product development,

Mary Huang, an executive at Intel, said that it will be jolly useful for punters to have wire-free charging so that they can run keyboards, mice, storage devices, cameras and smartphones without needing to constantly recharge or replace batteries.

The move is part of Chipzilla’s attempts to make PC’s more consumer friendly and work alongside mobile products. Currently if you want to charge your phone wirelessly you have to place it on a pad directly on the ultrabook or laptop.

Intel wants to develop the technology so that the energy is broadcast over a slightly longer distance to make it less dependant on proximity to the Ultrabook or PC. If it manages it, it could mean the end of having to plug in electronic gear for a recharge, so long as it is near your workstation.