RF and microwave frequencies have given us many gadgets over the years that I cannot imagine living without. And that dependence has only increased with time. From radio receivers and television to microwave ovens, not to mention wireless measuring tapes and networks for home security, these widgets have become part and parcel of our daily lives.
In fact, with the semiconductor and CMOS revolution, RF technologies continue to impinge on us from all sides. With the cellular introduction in the early 1980s and the wireless expansion of the 1990s, the role of RF has continued to expand. More and more consumer applications are taking advantage of RF techniques, further deepening our reliance on the technology.
While automobiles have been home to radio receivers for decades, recent advances in RF ICs and digital techniques are driving automakers to pack more electronic gadgets in the average vehicle. Hence, modern cars are using RF for telematics, Internet access, keyless entry and global positioning systems (GPS). A new federal tire safety mandate has required tire pressure monitoring systems, which use RF techniques.
Meanwhile, the Internet revolution has spawned many uses of wireless connectivity for notebooks, PDAs and cell phones. Consequently, wireless and the Internet have converged to give us buzz words like “ubiquitous wireless Internet,” giving users fast Internet connectivity at home as well as on the road.
The medical field and the sports arena are also seeing more applications for wireless communications. Using Bluetooth and other 802.11b wireless standards, several manufacturers have unveiled solutions for stand-alone hospital and health care products on a network. Several thousand hospitals in the United States are equipped with a wide variety of stand-alone electronic devices that are just now being linked to networks so that a patient's status can be monitored remotely.
On the sports' front, smart helmets are being developed to monitor an athlete's head injuries. Experts are hoping that RF connectivity will pave the way for the systems that could quickly report dangerous head injuries suffered by players in college and high school games. While the initial head-impact telemetry systems under development are aimed at football helmets, the technology could be quickly expanded to many other types of sports.
Meanwhile, radio frequency identification (RFID) technology has also begun to gain momentum. Because of supplier mandates issued by Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, as well as the Department of Homeland Security's upcoming certification of antiterrorism products, the market for RFID tags is expected to surge over the next five years, according to a recent market research report. The RFID tags allow wireless identification of the items that they are attached to. They are expected to give popular bar codes that check inventories of all kinds of products some tough competition.
I am sure there are many other consumer markets not on my radar screen, waiting to tap the benefits of RF techniques. Although the last few years have been challenging for the RF industry as a whole, emerging new applications and broadband cellular services promise a much brighter future for the RF and microwave industry. Let me know what you think.
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