CES 2010: Shifting Wireless Broadband Into Overdrive

Sprint's new Overdrive is a Wi-Fi router for your 4G Internet connection

2 min read

In January 2008 we heralded the Sprint WiMax network (“Winner: Sprint's Broadband Gamble”). A lot's changed since then (see this January's “4G in the U.S.A.”) but one thing hasn't. At the time we said the network promised to be the most open in the world. We described Sprint's business model as “A new cellular service will sell high-speed data access instead of phones and phone calls.”

That vision apparently hasn't changed. This week at CES the company unveiled the Overdrive, a sort of portable Wi-Fi router for 4G users. The idea of the Overdrive is this: Your plug the Overdrive (via USB) into your laptop, which itself is on the Internet via the 4G network. Up to 5 users can connect to the Overdrive via Wi-Fi, just as they might connect to the Wi-Fi router in your home. The $99 Overdrive, which is actually made by Sierra Wireless, is smaller than a pack of cigarettes.

As a Wi-Fi router, the Overdrive is fantastic, but not new. Sprint had an earlier box, the MiFi, which did the same for Sprint's 3G network (the Overdrive will connect to the older and larger 3G network if the 4G network, which still only exists in 20-odd cities, can't be found).

But the Overdrive has some other nice features as well. It has 32 GB of storage, which your 5 users can access. An activity screen on the laptop shows things like the cellular signal strength, the number of users connected, whether GPS is active (so that your users can be located by Google Maps and the like) and how much storage is being used. An admin screen lets you assign MAC addresses, create passwords — all the things you can do with your home router.

Back in 2008 I speculated that some subscribers might use the WiMax network as their exclusive broadband provider, in the home as well as outside. The Overdrive goes a long way to making that home experience as similar to, and as useful as, a cable or DSL subscription.

The Conversation (0)

Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

Keep Reading ↓Show less
{"imageShortcodeIds":[]}