Definition of Wireless Technology
It's Simpler Than You May Think

While the definition of wireless technology should be straightforward, what you may find on the web doesn't always make the cut.

For example...
"a technology, such as cellphones, that uses radio waves to transmit and receive data"

This definition is a bit too narrow as it suggests that wireless technology is enabled only by radio waves. But radio is only one small, but very important part of the energy that we can and do use to carry information that enables electronic products to communicate and interact with each other by exchanging information.

Defining a single word is hard enough, but defining a pair of words is a little harder.

A simple, practical working definition

Here's a simple, practical working definition of wireless technology...

Electronic products and systems that interact by using electromagnetic energy, to carry information between them, so they can communicate with each other.

The scope of this definition extends well beyond the mobile phone or wireless computer network.

If you're wondering about the energy and information in the definition, let's put some meat on the bones and give our definition a bit more substance.

Electromagnetic Energy makes it possible

We usually associate 'wireless anything' with electromagnetic energy such as...

  • Radio waves
  • Microwaves
  • Infra-red light
  • Laser light

And while these all have separate names, they're really just different parts of the same thing... the continuous electromagnetic spectrum.

These forms of energy travel easily through the air... and even more easily, through a vacuum, such as space.

But there are other forms of energy that can carry information too, such as those that rely on a medium such as air or water. Sound is the most common example. Everyone knows that sound is usually our primary means of communication... when we're close enough, but over greater distances we need something that has enough energy to 'go the distance'.

Electromagnetic energy does 'go the distance'.

How does our definition stack up?

Would an extreme example such as an electric toothbrush fit our definition?

The wireless transfer of energy may just fall outside it. Remember the definition was all about energy, carrying information. Does this fall outside it?

Where does the electric toothbrush get its energy?

It's stored in the batteries, but where do they get their energy? When the batteries go flat you drop it into the charging cradle, right? A wireless toothbrush?

Does this mean the electric toothbrush fits within our definition of wireless technology? And isn't this an example of transferring energy (to charge the batteries) without transferring information?

No. These things are smart and know when their batteries have received enough energy. How? Because they know how long they've been charging, how much charge current they need and how much is flowing into the batteries.

In effect, this is information and is being carried by the energy from one place (the cradle) to another (the toothbrush). The energy source is sending two kinds of information... signalling its presence and sending information about the amount of charge current that's flowing. So maybe it does fit within the definition of wireless technology after all.

Pushing the boundary? Maybe. But think of this. What's the most annoying thing about owning a laptop computer (apart from paying the Internet bill, updating the anti-virus software and occasionally forgetting where you left it)? For me, it's charging the batteries. Nothing else even comes close.

Did you know there are initiatives underway to power devices such as laptop computers... wirelessly? Imagine never having to plug a charger into your laptop... a laptop that manages its own power budget. Watch this space.

And plans for the wireless charging of electric cars is also on the drawing board.

If our definition of wireless technology is wider than you might have expected, this is because the general definition is sometimes unnecessarily narrow.

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