One of the Opto Squad retired last week. Once they leave the Opto Squad, their identities are no longer protected. His name is Bernd Ziganki and he managed Vishay’s Infrared Transceiver product line. This product group was once called IrDA Products but the name was dropped a few years ago because, well, people weren’t searching for that name anymore. What happened?
IrDA was the first peer-to-peer wireless communication protocol globally available. The Infrared Data Association (IrDA) created hardware and software standards. They defined data transmission rates and initially tested products for interoperability. Nearly every mobile phone and notebook PC featured IrDA. The vaunted PDAs embraced the feature. Printers adopted the technology. Billions of transceivers were sold to companies like Nokia, Sony, Ericsson, Palm, HP, Dell, and IBM, by companies like Vishay, Sharp, Rohm, and LiteOn. The little window behind which the infrared transceiver hid was ubiquitous. Data rates up to 16 Mbit/s were supported. NFC, Bluetooth, and ZigBee all launched in the shadow of IrDA and claimed to fix all that was wrong with IrDA. Recall that IrDA got off the ground in 1994 and in four short years was everywhere.
Some missteps left the door open for competition. First, the software stacks were cumbersome and, because few companies sold them, very expensive. Second, too many connection protocols were defined, each trying to right the wrongs of its predecessor but ultimately confusing the users. Third, abandoning the required interoperability testing, and allowing product manufacturers to “self-certify” that they met the standards, led to products that just didn’t talk to one another. Legacy support was not always required. There is a reason Bluetooth had interoperability “Festivals”; they learned from IrDA. Finally, IrDA was intended to be a short range communication protocol; one meter or less. Some felt that that was a disacvantage.
Despite these growing pains, IrDA thrived for over 10 years and had a larger install base than NFC or ZigBee have ever had. Just like in the gold rush days, where the suppliers of the equipment used by the panhandlers were the ultimate winners, so too it was with IrDA. But is IrDA dead?
Not by a long shot. There is a small cadre of IrDA-ites working on peer-to-peer communication at gigabit data rates. They are back in their labs in Germany and Japan where they are focusing their efforts on data rates not remotely possible by NFC, ZigBee or even the present king-of-the-hill Bluetooth.
So, the Opto Squad salutes Hr. Ziganki, the years of adventures he had, and the foundation he laid for the future.
Do you think IrDA is dead?