Have you ever bought a new gizmo or gadget and wondered how you lived life before it? For me, smartphones obviously come to mind. When I was a kid I was content to play with sticks and rocks. Now my kids play with virtual sticks and rocks on their iPhones. High speed wireless connectors will be like that for the Internet of Things. Keyssa has developed a new short-range chip that operates in the 60 GHz band that they say will replace all currently wired connectors. Imagine laptops with no USB, HDMI, or audio ports on the side. Think about how your PCB designs could change if you had a smaller connector chip that didn’t require physical access. This new kind of communication could change the game when it comes to mobile device design, but it has a few challenges to overcome first.
Wireless Short Range Communication
Smartphones have changed our lives and simple wireless short range chips could change our phones. Keyssa has developed a short range chip that uses mm wave frequencies (30 GHz to 300 GHz), specifically the 60 GHz band, that can transfer data incredibly quickly. This “Kiss Connectivity” is designed to work with common communication protocols, making it simpler to integrate than many competing systems.
Keyssa’s goal with this chip is to replace conventional connectors, like USB or HDMI cords. In order to compete with traditional wires, they knew they’d need to have high transfer speeds. Using mm wave frequencies allows these integrated circuits (ICs) to transmit at high speeds, just like 5G, up to 6 Gbps. In addition to high speeds, things need to work without all the pairing that goes on with WiFi and Bluetooth. They addressed that issue using the chips’ physical proximity to one another. This means that the chips will only transmit when they are very close to each other, thereby eliminating a complex pairing process.
Simplifying a product for users is all well and good, but what about the people who have to incorporate the chip into their designs? In order to simplify integration of their product, Keyssa made it compatible with common protocols like USB and HDMI, without introducing software overhead. Using standard protocols instead of developing something proprietary is one thing that sets them apart from competitors. Another perk for designers is that the chip is “orders of magnitude lower than wireless solutions.”
Some companies are already trying to drastically reduce their number of connectors. Look at the iPhone 7 for example, which has one physical entry point. I think Apple will try to go completely wireless within the next 3 iterations of the iPhone. Of course, Keyssa and Apple are trying to sell products, so let’s look at the pros and cons of this technology from an objective point of view.
This kind of technology could make tangled wires a thing of the past.
High Data Transfer Rate - Keyssa claims their technology can get up to 6 Gbps, and 5G is aiming for a practical limit of 10 Gbps within the next several years. Compare that to currently benchmarked USB 3.0 drives which top out at 383 MBps read speed (~3 Gbps) and you can see the immediate transfer rate advantages. Though, I must say, USB 3.1 also has a theoretical limit of 10 Gbps, so it can catch up eventually.
Convenience - This is one of the best pros for users. We all love our phones but hate pairing them with displays. Wireless technology that is “plug and play” is the ideal scenario.
Space - The physical dimensions of connectors limit devices. Imagine if you didn’t have to put so many different ports on your gadget and could use one wireless chip for all data transfer. It would open up lots of space on your board and allow you to be much more creative in your designs.
Inconvenience - The bad thing about wireless technology is we’re not very good at providing power with it yet, although some researchers are working on it. Many devices receive power via USB or other data connections, so until we work out how to efficiently charge over the air, this technology will only be usable in certain peripherals and devices.
Device Recognition - Keyssa’s chip solves the problem of device pairing via proximity. However, we don’t usually want to physically touch our devices together. Pairing is the bane of all wireless communication, and this technology is no exception.
New - Humans fear change. People won’t trust this technology until it is tried and true, and it can’t be verified if no one uses it, a difficult catch 22. The answer here is that a bold company with a solidified customer base, like Apple, should integrate this technology first. Conversely, you could design an amazing product set using this chip and beat them to the punch.
Until wireless charging is perfected this kind of chip will have limited use.
Taking into consideration the pros and cons of this kind of communication set up, there are several places this technology could serve us well. The IoT and wearables are the two most obvious and applicable ones, so I’ll talk about them.
The IoT promises to monitor our homes and cities, but how will we obtain that information? If I use my WiFi to communicate with my smart hub and it goes out, I’m not able to send commands or receive data. You could incorporate this kind of chip to allow users to easily access data with a simple swipe. Just walk in from work, swipe your phone next to your smartphone and instantly download as much data as you want. No need to clog up the WiFi with data you may or may not want, just send it locally.
This is even more useful when it comes to wearables. Many wearables have small form factors and may have only a few buttons. This can make connecting them to WiFi or pairing them via Bluetooth a hassle. Incorporate this kind of IC into your wearable to allow users to quickly access their data without having to fiddle with buttons or connect to a network.
Wireless systems have been around forever, but this kind of technology is still not widely used. Keyssa’s chips address the pairing problems that users hate, while also giving designers a much smaller alternative to traditional connectors that is also low power. Of course, this kind of scheme has its flaws, but it can still be useful. The local, fast, data transfer capabilities could be put to good use in the IoT and wearable markets.
If you use this chip you’re going to be able to reimagine how you design PCBs. You’ll have a lot more space and can route your boards in new ways. To take advantage of these possibilities you’ll need design software that’s as cutting edge as the technology you’re using. CircuitStudio has lots of great features that can help you design bold new boards.
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