Multimodal Multitasking Is Multicomplex
By Mike Masnick, Thu Oct 21 23:00:00 GMT 2004

With all the different technologies and applications being crammed into mobile phones, it's making some realize that the technical issues may be even more complex than already expected.

Everyone knows that as more features are crammed into new phones, it makes the technology more complex, but it's beginning to look like the level of complexity may go well beyond what some expected. The "holy grail" for the wireless industry was supposed to be software defined radio (SDR) -- which would allow a radio to adjust to the available wireless connection offerings, and reconfigure itself to match the "best" connection.

That works great when you just need a single wireless connection, but runs into problems when you need many different wireless connections at the same time. Handsets have their core cellular connections, but you can find (sometimes with a little digging) handsets that also offer Bluetooth, GPS, FM radio and Wi-Fi. Add to that TV reception, ZigBee and a version (or maybe two) of UWB technology, and there are an awful lot of radios that could be found in a single handset -- many of which you may want to use at once.

Should you have to turn off the FM radio that's playing into your Bluetooth wireless headset, just to get a GPS read on where the nearest coffee shop is, so you can hook up your phone to its Wi-Fi network? With each new radio, the complexity grows drastically, to the point that it raises many questions about whether or not SDR can really handle such situations. Over the years, there's already been plenty of skepticism concerning whether or not SDR could really do what it claimed to do -- and now some are realizing even if it can, that might not be enough if all these radios need to work at once.

From there, the next question is how all these concurrent networks and applications will share antennas without interference. The solution, many hope, will come in the form of smart antennas and the gradual progression of antenna functions down to the chip level, but there's still plenty of research that needs to be done there to deal with concurrent uses as well.

Obviously, there's a lot of research already being done in this area. The article raising these questions was written by someone at Texas Instruments, while many of the recent stories about SDR and smart antennas focus on work done (or funded by) Intel. Even though neither of these companies have reached a solution yet, and it will probably be some time before they do, this work is critical to the development of the killer applications everyone has been proposing for advanced handsets. When you can multitask across multiple networks, it opens up new types of applications that simply couldn't exist before, and complex or not, that is where the value lies.