The World Has Gone Wireless, So Why Do We Still Have Cables?

We live in an age of ubiquitous wireless connectivity. Whether you are on the corporate Wi-Fi at the office, teleworking using your home Wi-Fi, logged on at the local coffee shop, or using the mobile cellular network, it’s pretty much a given that you won’t need a cable to get a reliable network connection. But in this era of wireless connectivity, why do AV installations still rely on so many cables? There are many reasons quality A/V implementations still rely heavily on cables but here are the top four:

  • Signal Integrity: Based purely on specifications, it would seem that the range of either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth would be sufficient to support most A/V devices. Class 1 Bluetooth devices should work at 100 meters and a standard Wi-Fi router should be able to provide signal within 50 meters. However, in practice, variables such as antenna type, antenna orientation, router transmission power, building design, building materials and other environmental factors often result in significantly less signal range. Since audio and video signals are highly sensitive to loss and degradation, the result of even a slight loss of signal integrity can have catastrophic impacts on audio and video quality.
  • Interference: Wireless interference can cause both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices to disconnect or perform poorly. Causes of wireless interference include too many devices sharing the same band and interference from other sources e.g., fluorescent lights, microwave ovens and power cables. The symptoms of wireless interference range from devices unable to connect or dropping connections, low signal strength and audio and video skipping, stuttering or jumping. More Bluetooth and Wi-Fi devices arrive in the workplace daily, and given that those devices are typically mobile, it is virtually impossible for the AV designer to ensure that those devices won’t create interference resulting in poor A/V system performance.
  • Power: With Qi charging, we can charge our mobile devices without plugging in a cable, but wireless charging of speakers, mics, cameras, controllers and other A/V technology has still not become commonplace. In theory, we could build wireless charging functionality into the A/V components — mics are the most obvious candidates — however the charging base station itself requires wired power, so we are still left with the need power cables somewhere in the room. Another drawback to wireless charging of AV components is the insertion of human error into the system. After use, someone needs to remember to place the component on the Qi charger and ensure it is aligned well enough with the coils to receive current.
  • Habit: Even though there are multiple ways to share content into a meeting using wireless technologies via products such as Barco ClickShare or by joining the meeting from your Wi-Fi connected PC or mobile device and using the meeting service’s content sharing feature, there continue to be instances where people want to, or need to, share via a wired connection. It may simply be a preference: “I always just come in and plug my PC directly into the display,” or it may be an issue of Wi-Fi access: “We don’t let visitors join our corporate Wi-Fi so they can’t access our screen sharing app or meeting service.” Regardless of whether the request for wired access is based on need or user preference, AV integrators and in house AV teams are still tasked with providing wired content sharing.

Wireless transmission and power technologies continue to improve, so it is probably only a matter of time before we can truly cut the cord in AV installations. However for the time being hiding cables, reducing cable bulk and decreasing the sheer number of connections will continue to be a challenge facing professional A/V designers and installers.