Scientists urge governments to turn old TV frequencies into free “super WiFi”

Governments should sack plans to auction off old television frequencies to the highest bidder and instead use the bandwidth for free super-frequency WiFi if they want to boost the economy, scientists have said.

Old television frequencies are becoming available for other uses around the world, thanks to a switch from analogue to digital transmission.

However, while governments are for the most part auctioning these off to whoever is prepared to pay the most – usually mobile phone networks – they should instead be using the frequencies to create free-to-use, wide-range WiFi, scientists from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany have said.

This new “super WiFi” would have a far wider range than existing WiFi networks, which are mostly transmitted over wireless local area networks (WLAN) at frequencies of 2GHz or above.


WiFi transmitted over old TV frequencies could be transmitted at lower frequencies than traditional WiFi, resulting in a far wider area covered. This super WiFi’s coverage area could even be as big as several kilometres in radius, a massive improvement on existing networks.

This would mean that pricey mobile services such as 4G were no longer required, which the scientists believe would lead to more mobile internet use, and a wealth of economic benefits.

“Implementation of our approach would have far-reaching consequences,” said Arnd Weber of the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) at KIT.

“Individuals, institutions and companies would be far less dependent on expensive mobile communications networks in conducting their digital communication. This would also be of great economic benefit.”

In addition to providing direct, measurable cost savings, the technology could, according to the researchers, result in the development of a host of new technologies just as existing WiFi has.

It could also provide direct benefits during disaster scenarios, as a means of providing updates and enabling communication.


However, the big challenge here is convincing governments that this is the right move.

Many have argued they these frequencies are common property and therefore should be made available to the public free of charge, a view that has been opposition from a number of people, including the late Nobel Prize winning economist Ronald Coase.

Coase argued that the frequencies should be auctioned off to ensure they are most effectively used, and the money used by governments to fund other services.

Others have also argued that congestion would make these lower frequency networks unworkable, however Weber and his colleague Jens Elsner argue that it is possible to avoid such congestion with the right technological approach.

Ultimately, convincing governments will be a matter of showing that long-term economic benefits greatly outstrip the short-term financial gains of an auction.

While Weber and Elsner plan to make this case at the UN World Radiocommunication Conference next year, they will no doubt struggle to get many governments onboard.

In the long run, though, those of us living in areas where auctions have gone ahead could find ourselves quite jealous of the countries that choose the super WiFi option.

Featured image courtesy of gunes t, inline images courtesy of Mr. Theklan

Scientists unlock wireless charging for airborne drones

Using inductive coupling, scientists have made a breakthrough that allows them to wirelessly transfer power to a drone while it is still flying. The technology could open up a host of possibilities, including allowing drones to fly indefinitely, simply hovering over a ground support vehicle when in need of a recharge.

Inductive coupling is a concept originally demonstrated over 100 years ago by Nikola Tesla, the principle being that by tuning two copper coils into each other with electronics, you can enable the wireless exchange of power at a certain frequency.

Inductive coupling has been experimented with for decades, but until now researchers have failed to utilise the technology to wirelessly power flying devices.

The researchers behind the breakthrough, from Imperial College London, demonstrated their method by altering the electronics and removing the battery of an off-the-shelf quadcopter drone.

A receiving antenna was made by encircling the drone’s casing with a copper foil ring, and a transmitter device on the ground was made out of a circuit board and connected to electronics and a power source, creating a magnetic field. The researchers believe that this is the first demonstration to show how this wireless charging method can be efficiently used with a flying object, and expect it to open up a range of potential applications.

“Imagine using a drone to wirelessly transmit power to sensors on things such as bridges to monitor their structural integrity,” explained Professor Paul Mitcheson, from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Imperial College London. “This would cut out humans having to reach these difficult-to-access places to re-charge them.

“Another application could include implantable miniature diagnostic medical devices, wirelessly powered from a source external to the body. This could enable new types of medical implants to be safely recharged, and reduce the battery size to make these implants less invasive.”

Images courtesy of Imperial College London

Images courtesy of Imperial College London

Drones are currently limited in their commercial usage by the distance they can travel and the duration for which they can do so.

Despite growing possibilities for usage, the limited availability of power and re-charging requirements means that it is hard to make full use of drones in their capacity for roles such as surveillance or search and rescue. The development of efficient wireless power transfer technology would solve these endurance problems and enable a wide range of advancements.

“In the future, we may also be able to use drones to re-charge science equipment on Mars, increasing the lifetime of these billion dollar missions,” added Mitcheson.

“We have already made valuable progress with this technology and now we are looking to take it to the next level.”

For now, the technology is still very much in its infancy and the Imperial team’s technology only allows the drone to fly ten centimetres above the magnetic field transmission source.

However, they are now exploring collaborations with industrial partners, and have estimated that a commercially available product could be ready in a year.

Chinese astronauts launched into space to test humans’ limits

China has successfully launched two astronauts into space in what is a massive step forward for the nation’s space programme.

Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong set off from northern China on Monday and arrived at the Tiangong 2 space laboratory at 03:24 Beijing time (19:24 GMT Tuesday), according to China’s official news agency Xinhua.

The pair, who will spend the next 30 days in space conducting experiments, “extended greetings to all the people of the nation,” while onboard the laboratory.

While aboard Tiangong 2, the astronauts will carry out experiments aimed at enabling humans to survive longer in space.

The experiments include attempting to grow plants in space, recycling air and human waste and three experiments that were designed by Hong Kong middle school students.

It is hoped that the results of the astronauts’ experiments will be published in international academic journals, to the benefit of space missions around the world.


Image courtesy of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation

In February 2016, Chinese state media, citing sources from the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA), said that the country would orbit its second space laboratory Tiangong 2 in third quarter of this year.

China remains only the third country after the United States and Russia to carry out its own crewed missions, but the country’s ambitions stretch far beyond the Tiangong 2 experiments.

Ultimately the nation aims to become a space superpower.

China is planning to launch the first module of its biggest ever space station, the Chinese Space Station, in 2018, and is to complete the project in 2022.

“May the strides that the Chinese people make into space be ever bigger and ever further, and contribute to the creation of our country as a great power in space,” said China’s president, Xi Jinping.

Polymer breakthrough will make all products harder, better, faster, stronger

Medicine, mobile phones, computers and clothes could all be made stronger and more effective thanks to a breakthrough in the understanding of polymers.

By mimicking the same process from which we get emulsion paint and glue, Professor David Haddleton from the University of Warwick’s Department of Chemistry has discovered a way to tailor products by altering their essential molecular structure.

The breakthrough ultimately means that producers will be able to determine a product’s weight, strength, shape and size by writing into the code of a molecule the exact properties needed for the final product.

Image courtesy of University of Warwick

Image courtesy of University of Warwick

The process devised by Professor Haddleton closely resembles controlled polymerisation, which has revolutionised academic polymer synthesis and traditionally uses one of two techniques: with sulphur or with copper.

Both of those techniques have drawbacks; the former using toxic and noxious bad smelling thiols, and the latter using heavy metal and catalysts which add cost and complication to new materials.

The new process – sulphur-free RAFT emulsion polymerization – eliminates these problems by replicating the process that is used to make emulsion paint and household glues, using water as solvent.


Sulphur-free RAFT emulsion polymerization allows complex polymers with good monomer sequence control to be synthesised in water, without the use of chemicals containing sulphur.

“Sulphur-free RAFT allows the use of commercial processes to make sequence controlled polymers containing molecular information to be made using large and uncontaminated processes,” said Professor Haddleton.

“I expect this to be of great interest to the polymer industry for use in nanomedicine to automotive applications.”

Professor Haddleton’s paper, Sequence-controlled methacrylic multiblock copolymers via sulphur-free RAFT emulsion polymerization, is published in Nature Chemistry.