‘Beam steering’ technology takes mobile communications beyond 5G

A new beam steering antenna increases transmission efficiency and opens up frequencies for mobile communications that are inaccessible to current technologies.

Birmingham scientists have revealed a new beam-steering antenna that increases the efficiency of data transmission “beyond 5G” and opens up a range of frequencies for mobile communications that are inaccessible to currently used technologies.

Experimental results, presented today for the first time at the 3dr International Union of Radio Sciences Atlantic/Asia-Pacific Radio Science Meeting, show the device can provide a “wide-angle” continuous beam direction, allowing it to track a mobile phone user in motion in the same way a satellite dish rotates to track a moving object, but with significantly improved speeds.

Devised by researchers at university of birmingham‘s Ingeniery schoolthe technology has shown great improvements in data transmission efficiency at frequencies spanning the entire millimeter wave spectrum, specifically those identified for 5G (mmWave) and 6G, where high efficiency can currently only be achieved using directed antenna solutions mechanically slow.

For 5G mmWave applications, prototypes of the 26 GHz beam steering antenna have demonstrated unprecedented data transmission efficiency.

The device is fully compatible with existing 5G specifications currently used by mobile communications networks. Furthermore, the new technology does not require the complex and inefficient feeder networks required for commonly deployed antenna systems, but instead uses a low-complexity system that improves performance and is easy to fabricate.

The beam steering antenna was developed by Dr James Churm, Dr Muhammad Rabbani and Professor Alexandros Feresidis, Director of the Metamaterials Engineering Laboratoryas a solution to the fixed base station antenna, for which current technology shows reduced efficiency at higher frequencies, limiting the use of these frequencies for long distance transmission.

About the size of an iPhone, the technology uses a metamaterial, made of a sheet of metal with a series of regularly spaced holes that are micrometers in diameter. An actuator controls the height of a cavity within the metamaterial, generating micrometric movements, and based on its position, the antenna will control the beam deflection of a radio wave, effectively ‘concentrating’ the beam into a highly directional signal, and then ‘redirecting’ this energy as desired’, while increasing transmission efficiency.

The team is now developing and testing prototypes at higher frequencies and in applications beyond 5G mobile communications.

Dr. Churm commented: “Although we developed the technology for use in 5G, our current models show that our beam steering technology can be 94% efficient at 300 GHz. The technology can also be adapted for use in communications. vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, vehicular radar, and satellite, making it suitable for next-generation use in automotive, radar, space, and defense applications.”

The University of Birmingham Enterprise has filed a patent application for this next generation beam steering antenna technology and is seeking industry partners for collaboration, product development or licensing.

The efficiency and other aspects of the underlying technology have undergone peer review, been published in respected journals, and presented at academic conferences.1,2,3,4.

Dr Churm added: “We are assembling a further body of work for publication and presentation that will demonstrate a level of efficiency that has not yet been reported for radio wave transmission at these challenging frequencies. The simplicity of the design and the low cost of the elements are advantageous for early adoption by industry, and the compact electronic configuration facilitates implementation where space is limited. We are confident that the beam steering antenna is good for a wide range of 5G and 6G applications, as well as satellite and Internet of Things.”

*Metamaterials is the term used for materials that have been designed to have special properties not found in natural materials. These properties can include the manipulation of electromagnetic waves by blocking, absorbing, enhancing, or bending waves.

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