In this blog mini-series Jason Williams discusses wireless technology in the conference room, discusses the advantages and disadvantages of different technologies and offers advice on about how to get the best from your wireless discussion system.
In this episode I will explore the innovative use of cutting-edge radio technology currently available to enable us to communicate with more flexibility in the conference environment. There are a number of manufacturers producing wireless conference discussion systems each working with similar technologies but operating in different ways.
When choosing a system for your particular application it is worth remembering that most systems you will evaluate have a number of commonalities. Firstly most manufactures have adopted radio systems that operate on the standard wifi bands. The individual delegate units will all be powered by a rechargeable battery of some description and all units will communicate with an access point or radio base station.
Most importantly, all wireless radio technologies use the same medium to transmit their signals through – air.
Despite the commonalities one main difference in the systems currently available is the way in which they transmit their signals.
As more gadgets and gizmos adopt wireless technology so the airwaves become crammed with more radio signals.
If you could wear a special pair of glasses that enabled you to see radio waves I am sure you would just see blackness in every direction you looked. This issue with congestion is becoming more and more of a problem especially in densely populated areas such as meeting rooms and conference venues where a number of different wireless systems are competing for the same airspace.
Designers and engineers have designed there wireless systems with these congestion issues in mind and most suppliers claim that their systems will work harmoniously with other equipment operating on the same frequencies. This may well be true in controlled environments where frequencies can be managed but in the real world nobody controls the airwaves and suddenly we have a bunfight on our hands.
Many wireless conference systems available today operate in the digital domain with analogue audio signals being converted into digital information for processing and transmission. Sampling rates are now good enough that not much of the audio quality is lost but this data now has to be cut up into small chunks (packets) and re-transmitted through the air. As we are now dealing with data we are able to process this in some clever ways.
We can encrypt the data so our conversations are difficult to eavesdrop, we can add additional data e.g. to give voting functionality and we can control the method how this data is transmitted and ultimately received. The latter is quite important in dealing with latency and congestion issues and we shall explore this in later episodes of this blog.
Because we are dealing with mainly portable equipment it would be no good having a wireless microphone that needed a wired connection to a power supply. For that matter all wireless delegate microphones (that I know of) are powered by batteries.
Due to the fact that each microphone unit is acting as both a transmitter and a receiver current drain can be quite high so high capacity battery packs are required. Depending on the particular type of battery used, some of these can be quite weighty and come with safety risks around how they are handled and charged. Each manufacturer will give you an approximate idea of expected battery life from a full charge and life expectancy as remember batteries will always be a consumable item in any system. I would recommend that this is something you should budget for.
In the next episode we will start to unravel some of the dark science behind the inner workings of a wireless conference system and aim to give you the knowledge you need to make sensible decisions on how you best make use of the technology for your application.