Rolling out mobile phone infrastructure is expensive, difficult and often meets public resistance, but it’s an essential step for increasing coverage. So researchers are looking at alternatives, including one proposal that could see members of the public carrying portable nodes in the network.
A study, which is being conducted at Queen’s University in Belfast, under the supervision of Dr. Simon Cotton would involve wearable sensors carried by members of the public. These would interact to transmit data between each other, allowing for far lower power requirements than a traditional antenna, greater coverage, and the capability to adapt to demand.
The way it works is simple.
Instead of hundreds or thousands of separate connections between different devices and a single phone mast, each participant in the network would send signal to someone nearby, who would send it to the next person, and then to the next person, and so on until it reaches its destination.
These body-to-body networks, or BBNs, could be embedded within existing devices like your phone, so you wouldn’t need to carry extra equipment. One of the significant benefits offered by such a system would be the way that large crowds would actually increase the coverage in an area, rather than making it more difficult to place a call.
“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,” said Simon Cotton, from Queen’s University’s Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology. “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.”
While such networks are still in their infancy today, Cotton reckons that they could reach more than 400 million devices across the world by 2014.