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To wire or not to wire

By Jean-Claude Elias - Dec 26,2019 - Last updated at Dec 26,2019

Even if you would rather use cable instead of wireless technology they won’t let you anymore. In some instances at least. There is already a number of smartphones that do not feature a cable jack input where you would usually plug a pair of earphones or headphones. Samsung’s A80 and Apple’s iPhone 7 are two such examples, and the list is growing by the month. It is expected that Samsung’s upcoming flagship model, the Galaxy S11 (or its equivalent), will also follow suit.

These devices want you to use wireless ear sets, exclusively, whether to have a phone conversation or to listen to music. There is nothing wrong with that, and it only confirms the general trend. How far will it go?

Whereas less cable hassle and tangle certainly is an advantage and a relief, we also know the enhanced security and the improved quality of communication that cables bring. Not to mention that wireless devices, Bluetooth (BT) or other, need to be powered or to have their batteries recharged. 

Environmentalists have constantly warned about the potential health hazards of what is the very carrier of wireless signals, the electromagnetic (EM) waves. When Wi-Fi was first introduced, a couple of years before this century, the media was flooded with articles, reviews and opinions expressing concern about the technology and its possible impact on health. This has somewhat abated, although today’s Wi-Fi EM waves are significantly more powerful than those back in 2000.

Today at any time, in any place, street, room or space, we are surrounded by EM waves belonging to various frequency spectrums: BT, radio programmes broadcast, local TV, satellite TV, Wi-Fi, security personnel walkie-talkie radios and others.

In addition to 3G, 4G and 5G Wi-Fi, perhaps the wireless protocol that is the most significant of them all and the one that has the biggest impact at consumer level remains BT, this despite its limited range, or maybe because its range precisely is limited to about 10 metres typically, and to 30 to 40 metres in special, extreme cases, when using the newest highly-sophisticated equipment.

Most of us have come to hate connecting cabled speakers to their music systems at home and prefer to use BT-enabled models instead. It is neat, simple and efficient, whether the speakers are small or big. The same goes for automotive audio. Even if you have a CD player in your car — a kind of equipment that is gradually disappearing in new models — you would rather send music wirelessly from your smartphone to the car amplifier and speakers, using BT air waves, or to catch streaming audio directly if your car is very new and so-equipped.

The fact is that BT’s latest versions 4.2 (2014) and 5 (2016) are clearly superior to the older standards of the protocol and can carry music to satisfy the most discerning ears, provided the sending and the receiving equipment are high-definition audio devices. Theoretically BT 5 is supposed to cover a range of up to 200 metres outdoor.

Wires will still be around if only in fixed installations. Indeed, wireless is interesting and makes a difference mainly in mobile equipment, which is the case of car stereos, smartphones, tablets and laptop computers.

Scottish scientist James Maxwell (1831-1879) was the first to formulate the theory of EM waves. Then German Heinrich Hertz (1857-1894) conclusively proved the existence of the waves. Like it is always the case with major scientific discoveries and innovations, none of these two brilliant gentlemen probably had the slightest idea about how much EM waves would affect our daily lives, from applications as complex as global satellite communication to mundane tasks like talking on your smartphone over a set of BT earpieces.

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