‘Wireless’ Humans Could Form Backbone Of New Mobile Networks

Members of the public could form the backbone of powerful new mobile internet networks by carrying wearable sensors. The novel sensors could create new ultra high bandwidth mobile internet infrastructures and reduce the density of mobile phone base stations.

I’m working on a new project based on the rapidly developing science of body centric communications. Social benefits from the work could include vast improvements in mobile gaming and remote healthcare, along with new precision monitoring of athletes and real-time tactical training in team sports. We are investigating how small sensors carried by members of the public, in items such as next generation smartphones, could communicate with each other to create potentially vast body-to-body networks (BBNs).

The new sensors would interact to transmit data, providing ‘anytime, anywhere’ mobile network connectivity. In the past few years a significant amount of research has been undertaken into antennas and systems designed to share information across the surface of the human body. Until now, however, little work has been done to address the next major challenge which is one of the last frontiers in wireless communication – how that information can be transferred efficiently to an off-body location.

The availability of body-to-body networks could bring great social benefits, including significant healthcare improvements through the use of bodyworn sensors for the widespread, routine monitoring and treatment of illness away from medical centres. This could greatly reduce the current strain on health budgets and help make the Government’s vision of healthcare at home for the elderly a reality.

If the idea takes off, BBNs could also lead to a reduction in the number of base stations needed to service mobile phone users, particularly in areas of high population density. This could help to alleviate public perceptions of adverse health associated with current networks and be more environmentally friendly due to the much lower power levels required for operation.

Our work at Queen’s involves collaborating with national and international academic, industrial and institutional experts to develop a range of models for wireless channels required for body centric communications. These will provide a basis for the development of the antennas, wireless devices and networking standards required to make BBNs a reality.

Success in this field will not only bring major social benefits it could also bring significant commercial rewards for those involved. Even though the market for wearable wireless sensors is still in its infancy, it is expected to grow to more than 400 million devices annually by 2014.

Simon Cotton received the B.Eng. degree in electronics and software from the University of Ulster, UK in 2004, and the PhD degree in electrical and electronic engineering from the Queen's University of Belfast, Belfast, UK in 2007. He is currently working as a Research Fellow within Radio Communications Research Group at ECIT where he is investigating millimeter-wave technologies for personal communications.