Terrestrial Wi-Fi to Boost Underwater Communications

In general, these early systems worked on a single frequency and performed okay, but often the data link would be dropped and operations would be disrupted, creating a need for more robust systems that could transmit data more reliably and with greater data rate.

“There was slow improvement in the technology, but the advent of digital electronics made a significant step forward in the ability to receive signals,” said Hanson.

Researchers in underwater acoustics saw the advances in digital technology in the telecommunications industry and wanted to apply this to underwater communication.

The rate at which data can be transmitted wirelessly is related to frequency: the higher the frequency, the higher the data rate. Electromagnetic waves can transmit through the air at extremely high frequencies, but underwater only very low frequencies travel more than 32 feet (10 meters) or so, making radio communication impractical other than for very short ranges.  

“Even if you put your cell phone in a dry bag and put it underwater, it wouldn’t work; radio waves are absorbed by the water,” said Hanson.  

Some firms are developing optical based wireless data transmission, using light to transmit data through the water, which may achieve data rates exceeding that of radio. 

“But challenges with absorption and scattering are likely to limit the effective communication range.  Consequently, if you want to communicate wirelessly beyond 164 feet (50 meters) or so, you will be using acoustic technology.”


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