We often have experienced call disruptions or bandwidth issues due to poor signal strength of the cell phone base stations.
A cell phone may not work at times, because it is too far from a mast. It may also not work because the phone is in a location where there is interference to the cell phone signal from thick building walls, hills or other structures. The signals do not need a clear line of sight but the more interference will degrade or eliminate reception.
In addition, if too many people using the cell mast at the same time, e.g. a traffic jam or a sports event, then there will be a signal on the phone display but it is blocked from starting a new connection.
In this context, imagine people themselves becoming cell phone towers. Yes it is possible; researchers at Queen's University Belfast (QUB) claim that humans can be turned into roaming mobile networks by wearing wireless sensors.
The engineers from QUB's institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT) are working on a new project based on the rapidly developing science of body centric communications.
Researchers say that novel sensors could create new ultra high bandwidth mobile internet infrastructures and reduce the density of mobile phone base stations.
The researchers at ECIT are investigating how small sensors carried by members of the public, in items such as next generation smartphones, could communicate with each other to create potentially vast body-to-body networks (BBNs).
The new sensors would interact to transmit data, providing 'anytime, anywhere' mobile network connectivity.
Dr Simon Cotton of ECIT's wireless communications research group has been awarded the joint five-year Research Fellowship by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Engineering and Physical Research Council (EPSRC) to examine how the new technology can be harnessed to become part of everyday life.
If the project is successful, it would revolutionize mobile communication.
Simon Cotton says: In the past few years a significant amount of research has been undertaken into antennas and systems designed to share information across the surface of the human body. Until now, however, little work has been done to address the next major challenge which is one of the last frontiers in wireless communication - how that information can be transferred efficiently to an off-body location.
Social benefits from the BBNs could include vast improvements in mobile gaming and remote healthcare, along with new precision monitoring of athletes and real-time tactical training in team sports.
The key benefit would be in health care as body worn sensors can be used for the widespread, routine monitoring and treatment of illness away from medical centers. This will be a boon for the elderly patients who cannot travel far, but can get the healthcare facilities at home itself.
Above all, it could greatly reduce the current strain on health budgets, says Cotton, who is working on the development of the antennas, wireless devices and networking standards required to make BBNs a reality.
If the idea takes off, BBNs could also lead to a reduction in the number of base stations needed to service mobile phone users, particularly in areas of high population density. This could help to alleviate public perceptions of adverse health associated with current networks and be more environmentally friendly due to the much lower power levels required for operation, he says.
Success in this field will not only bring major social benefits it could also bring significant commercial rewards for those involved. Even though the market for wearable wireless sensors is still in its infancy, it is expected to grow to more than 400 million devices annually by 2014, he says.