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The Fastest Is Here

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Early this week in sweden, ericsson demonstrated the next generation of mobile broadband — the so-called Advanced Long Term Evolution (LTE). It showed Advanced LTE could provide speeds 10 times that of traditional LTE. Current LTE networks can already notch up speeds of nearly 100 mbps. In contrast, Advanced LTE can go up to 1 gbps in fixed situations, and 100 mbps while moving. Sometimes called 4G, LTE falls slightly short of the requirements for true 4G. Current projections show wired broadband will achieve a maximum speed of 100 mbps in 10 years.

LTE is already deployed in Sweden, and Advanced LTE is expected to launch commercially in two years. Equipment vendors other than Ericsson — such as Huawei and NTT DoCoMo — have also demonstrated Advanced LTE. This standard is near-universally accepted, not just by mobile operators, but also by public-safety institutions. So, as LTE spreads around the world, Advanced LTE would follow with real 4G speeds. LTE is not just faster, but also cheaper. Future versions will have the ability to optimise and heal itself. So we are heading to a world where we may be able to cut our cords forever.

But it is not as if everything is rosy. Advanced LTE needs lots of spectrum, as much as 60 gigahertz. Further, its towers will emit 20 times as much radiation as 3G. How regulators will tackle this issue, if at all, is not clear. But for now, health effects seem to be the only real stumbling block to a dream world of universal high-speed wireless.

Green Power

Scientists develop a new material that can convert waste heat into electricity (Photographs: Bloomberg)

More than 50 per cent of energy generated every year on this planet is lost as heat. Now, a series of discoveries promises a way to convert this waste heat into electricity. A study published last week in Advanced Energy Materials describes how researchers at the University of Minnesota used a new alloy — which they discovered — that converts heat directly into electricity. One of the first applications for such work is to convert waste heat in automobile exhausts into electricity and charge battery in a hybrid, enhancing the fuel efficiency of the vehicle. It would be useful in many industrial plants that generate enormous waste heat. Another application is to keep data centres cool, using waste heat from the servers. Earlier researchers used cantilevers that bend with heat and crystals that generate electricity when heated. There are several other methods as well, and they all work at varying efficiencies.

The Minnesota scientists use a completely novel approach to the problem. They found a new alloy, of a class called multiferroics, which has very unusual electric, magnetic and elastic properties. For example, the researchers used a material that is not magnetic, but it suddenly becomes so when the temperature is raised by a small amount, and produces electricity when placed inside a coil. It could be the ‘ultimate green way' to produce electricity.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 11-07-2011)

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