A new technology is making connectors redundant. Paul Skelton looks at the impact of a new near field system that is making its presence known.
These days, development of technology is as much as given as the return of Tonia Todman or Naomi Robson to TV screens around the nation. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ so much as ‘when’.
But it seems the humble connector has long been forgotten in the technological evolutionary process.
It’s not like they don’t need work. As other technologies have progressed and increased speed of communications, issues pertaining to electromagnetic interference, radio frequency interference and electrostatic discharge have only gotten worse.
“Connectors are a $50-plus billion industry that – unlike almost every other aspect of mobile and computer hardware design – has remained undisrupted for decades,” says Keyssa chief executive Eric Almgren.
Keyssa is a California-based tech developer that has recently launched ‘Kiss Connectivity’, which offers a new way to transmit huge amounts of data and video rapidly between devices in close proximity, with virtually no battery drain.
“We have reinvented the connector and designed a new category of contactless connectivity that’s elegant, power-efficient and can meet the exponentially-growing demands of consumers for creating and consuming rich media.”
As data usage increases, it becomes increasingly challenging to make mechanical connectors in an acceptable form factor and still maintain signal integrity. Connectors that can support higher data rates often require differential pins, more pairs of pins and more shielding, driving up their size. This is in direct opposition to current industrial design trends of making devices slimmer.
Further, as demand increases, mechanical connectors are also often susceptible to signal integrity issues. Connector signal integrity increasingly has become a performance and reliability limiter. Connectors and cables add discontinuities in transmission paths, which in turn introduce signal loss and reflections, causing increased jitter and puts an upper limit to data transfer speeds.
In an attempt to meet the ever-increasing market demand to move more data more quickly, some smart phone manufacturers have incorporated USB 3.0 in their products; however, this protocol is often disabled due to potential interference between the USB 3.0 and the 802.11 WiFi Standards. The USB 3.0 connector radiates within the 802.11 frequency band. As such, mobile devices are not often able to take advantage of the increased data rates offered by USB 3.0.
Many people believed wireless technology would eliminate many of those connector design issues, which in large they did. But, it also added new ones like cost, antenna design complexity, increased power consumption and customer frustration with slow wireless networks, managing passwords and pairing issues.
Kiss Connectivity provides a private point-to-point data transmission of up to 6Gbps depending on the data transmission protocol implemented. This provides consistent high-speed data transfers between a pair of mated devices, regardless of the number of other devices present on a network.
When supporting protocols like USB 3.0, DisplayPort, SATA and PCIe, Kiss Connectivity can download a 1GB movie in as little as two seconds.
Keyssa’s technology dispenses with awkward data-transfer cables and the dependence on wireless networks to share, sync, and show huge files, like 4K, or Ultra HD, videos. Two Kiss Connectivity devices simply ‘kiss’ when they are positioned close together and can exchange data in a few seconds.
With Kiss Connectivity, no physical interconnection is required to transfer data, resulting in near-zero wear, near-zero potential for corrosion, and near-zero sensitivity to vibration. Unlike a metal connector with precise pin to pin alignment, Kiss Connectivity does not need to be perfectly aligned or inserted carefully in order to make a connection.
In addition, Keyssa’s connector has a power consumption that is orders of magnitude lower than wireless solutions, so it preserves battery life. It also gives people a much more secure data-transfer environment because it is a point-to-point connection, unlike network-based solutions like WiFi or WiGig.
Keyssa vice president of strategic solutions Steve Venuti is no stranger to building a connectivity super power. He served for 12 years as the president of HDMI Licensing and oversaw the initial release of the HDMI Specification.
“Keyssa’s mission is to reinvent the connector. Not to replace it,” he says.
“Since their invention, connectors have never really changed. Sure, we have a new USB connector (Type C) and they get smaller and more powerful, but they still have fundamental issues they can’t escape.
“We all know that wear and tear is a problem for connectors. They’re mechanical and they can break, they get lint and dirt in them, and they can get water in them too.
“Signal interference is also a massive problem. Consumers may not be aware of it, but engineers are certainly across it. Especially as speeds increase, there is a lot of interference radiating from the metal in the connectors and cables. We had huge interference issues with HDMI.”
Steve says while wireless technology has a place, there are a lot of complexities in the way it’s designed and a lot of power is needed for it to operate.
“We went out and created a semi-conductor – a solid state solution that can be embedded in products and has the ability to send data very fast.”
At just 5mm by 5mm, and 1mm tall, the result is a tiny, low cost, low power solution that has incredible capabilities in terms of speed.
“It essentially eliminates the metal from connector design, so you don’t get wear and tear or interference. And, products that feature Keyssa’s technology, when combined with wireless power can be completely sealed and ruggedised.
“Performance-wise, I would say we are much more similar to wired than wireless.
“The whole point was to develop a technology that resulted in very fast, low power, low latency, efficient throughput. We knew it would have to be in the same vein as near field communication as the further away you move you have to add packets and packetizing, which defeats the purpose.”
Steve highlights protocol agnosticism as one of the technology’s strongest selling points.
“We’re not trying to change the existing protocols, we’re just trying to change that last millimetre of a system where there is wire, so there are none.
“We honestly don’t care about the protocol; our role is to transfer data very quickly without a wire. There’s no programming overhead and there’s no software drivers – we’ve made this as simple as possible from an implementation point of view so you can easily adopt it.”
As for Kiss Connectivity’s role in the custom integration space, it’s early days.
“Integrators are all about making sure your home is wired the right way, so Kiss Connectivity could be an alternate way to bring content into your home. But it’s a while away,” Steve says.
“Where I see this technology affecting the CI channel more is in the world of IoT, where there are going to be more and more sensors located throughout buildings, collecting more and more data.
“This type of interface will absolutely have a role to play in the future of home design, as the IoT gains momentum.”