Wires make sense. If you want to connect one device to another, you use a wire. A tangible, visible wire that transmits whatever you want it to: information, electricity, communication signals, etc. I don’t know about you, but the space behind my TV is a gigantic, tangled spiderweb of wires. It’s annoying, but necessary. How else would I connect my DVD player, video game consoles, and laptop to my TV? Through wireless connectivity, that’s how. An invisible game-changer. Wires and connectors that were once vital are now slowly fading into the background. Because wires have always been a necessary nuisance, consumers are glad to seem them go, but what effects will our increasingly wireless world have on the connector industry?
The world’s come a long way since the early 1890s when Nikola Tesla proved that it’s possible to transmit energy wirelessly over long distances—but we haven’t come as far as you might have thought. Back then, one might have imagined that today, over 100 years later, we would be living in a wireless world. That hasn’t happened yet, but we’re slowly moving toward that ideal all the time. Technological advances have allowed us to create products that are smaller and more powerful. Plus, we’ve consistently been moving away from stationary, desktop electronics to mobile devices like smart phones, tablets, and MP3 players.
These small, sleek, mobile devices are built with rechargeable batteries that can last hours (and sometimes even days) without being recharged, and they pair perfectly with wireless communication. You can connect to the internet wirelessly, exchange information wirelessly, and even recharge your devices wirelessly these days. The achievements in technology make products even more convenient and practical (less clutter, better external protection, unconstrained movement, etc.), but they also eliminate the need for power connectors. Luckily for connector manufacturers, it’s not likely that the need for external connectors will disappear very soon. So it’s fate promises to be a bit different than that of the d-sub connector.
Many new short-range, wireless technologies have been cropping up in recent years, ready to step in and enter the game: ANT+, Cellular, IEEE 802.15.4, ISA 100A, Wi-Fi, IEEE 802.11, ZigBee, and much-loved Bluetooth. Wireless connectivity will continue to grow at even faster rates as manufacturers make it easier to integrate these new technologies into their products. While this will pose a threat to the connector community, it is not something to be concerned about right away.
Wireless connectivity will reduce the volume of connectors needed, but many of the connectors it will eliminate are commodity connectors with low profit margins. And as our current technological infrastructure (which consists of thousands of cellular access points and supports high-speed networks) changes and advances, it will need more bandwidth. The machine-to-machine communications will require very reliable connectors with a high signal density that can operate at multigigabit data rates.
The future of connectors depends largely upon the growth of technologies in other industries because they can replace the need for traditional products. For example, the RJ45 connector, most often used in Ethernet applications, is disappearing as we transition to wireless connectivity.
Although the loss of wires may lead to the loss of many connectors, other industries will undoubtedly create technologies that lead to new uses for connectors. So while wireless connectivity is threatening the industry, only time can tell what the future holds for connector manufacturers.