‘Beam-steering’ technology takes mobile communications beyond 5G


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

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

Experimental results, presented today for the first time at the 3rd International Union of Radio Science Atlantic / Asia-Pacific Radio Science Meeting, show that the device can provide continuous “wide-angle” beam steering, allowing it to track a moving mobile phone user similarly to an antenna parabolic rotates to follow a moving object, but with much improved speeds.

Designed by researchers at the University of Birmingham School of Engineering, the technology has demonstrated great improvements in the efficiency of data transmission at frequencies ranging across the millimeter wave spectrum, particularly those identified for 5G (mmWave) and 6G, where high efficiency is currently only achievable using slow, mechanically directed antenna solutions.

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

The device is fully compatible with existing 5G specifications currently used by mobile communication networks. Additionally, the new technology does not require the complex and inefficient feed networks required for commonly deployed antenna systems, but instead uses a low complexity system that improves performance and is simple to manufacture.

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

The size of an iPhone, the technology uses a metamaterial, made from a sheet of metal with an array of evenly spaced holes a few micrometers in diameter. An actuator controls the height of a cavity in the metamaterial, delivering micrometric movements, and depending on its position, the antenna will control the deflection of the beam of a radio wave – effectively “focusing” the beam into a highly directional signal, and then “redirect that energy as desired” – while increasing the efficiency of the transmission.

The team is currently developing and testing prototypes at higher frequencies and in applications that go 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 may be capable of 94% efficiency at 300 GHz. The technology can also be adapted for use in vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, vehicle-radar, and satellite communications, making it ideal for next-generation use in automotive, radar, space, and other applications. defense.

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.

Efficacy and other aspects of the underlying technology have been through the peer review process, published in respected journals, and presented at academic conferences1,2,3,4.

Dr Churm added: “We are bringing together another body of work for publication and presentation that will demonstrate a level of efficiency that has not yet been reported for the transmission of radio waves at these challenging frequencies. The simplicity of design and low component cost are advantageous for early industry adoption, and the compact electronics configuration facilitates deployment where space constraints exist. We are confident that the beam steering antenna is suitable for a wide range of 5G and 6G applications, as well as satellite and Internet of Things.

*Metamaterials are the term used for materials that have been engineered to have special properties not found in natural materials. These properties can include manipulating electromagnetic waves by blocking, absorbing, enhancing, or distorting the waves.


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