Researchers Present Beam-Steering Technology That will Take Mobile Communications Beyond 5G

Birmingham University researchers have unveiled a novel beam-steering antenna that improves data transmission efficiency for “beyond 5G” — and opens up a spectrum of frequencies for mobile communications that are now unavailable to existing technology.

Researchers Present Beam-Steering Technology That will Take Mobile Communications Beyond 5G.
The beam-steering antenna technology has been developed to increase the efficiency of fixed base station antenna at 5G (mm Wave) and 6G, and can also be adapted for vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, vehicular radar, and satellite communications. Image Credit: University of Birmingham.

The device can provide continuous “wide-angle” beam steering, enabling it to monitor a moving mobile phone user in the same way that a satellite dish turns to track a moving object, but at considerably faster speeds, according to experimental results presented for the first time at the 3rd International Union of Radio Science Atlantic/Asia-Pacific Radio Science Meeting.

The technology, developed by researchers at the University of Birmingham’s School of Engineering, has shown significant gains in data transmission efficiency at frequencies across the millimeter wave spectrum, particularly those identified for 5G (mm Wave) and 6G, where high efficiency is presently only possible with slow, mechanically steered antenna solutions.

Prototypes of the beam-steering antenna at 26 GHz have demonstrated remarkable data transmission efficiency for 5G mm Wave applications.

The gadget is compatible with current 5G requirements used by mobile communication networks. Furthermore, the new technique eliminates the need for the complicated and inefficient feeding networks that are prevalent in antenna systems, instead opting for a low-complexity system that enhances performance while being simple to build.

Dr. James Churm, Dr. Muhammad Rabbani, and Professor Alexandros Feresidis, Head of the Metamaterials Engineering Laboratory, developed the beam-steering antenna as a solution for fixed base station antennas, which currently have lower efficiency at higher frequencies, limiting their use for long-distance transmission.

The technology, which is about the size of an iPhone, is based on a metamaterial, which is a metal sheet with a grid of micrometer-sized pores.

An actuator controls the height of a cavity within the metamaterial, delivering micrometer movements, and the antenna controls the deflection of a radio wave beam based on its position, effectively “concentrating” the beam into a highly directive signal and then “redirecting this energy as desired”—all while increasing transmission efficiency.

The team is currently working on prototypes that will work at higher frequencies and in applications that will go beyond 5G mobile communications.

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, vehicular radar, and satellite communications, making it good for next generation use in automotive, radar, space and defense applications.

Dr. James Churm, Research Fellow, University of Birmingham

The University of Birmingham Enterprise has filed a patent for its next-generation beam-steering antenna technology and is looking for industry partners for cooperation, product development, and licensing.

The efficiency and other features of the underlying technology have been peer-reviewed, published in reputable publications, and presented at academic conferences.

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 transmission of radio waves at these challenging frequencies,” added Dr. Churm.

He further stated, “The simplicity of the design and the low cost of the elements are advantageous for early adoption by industry, and the compact electronics configuration make it easy to deploy where there are space constraints. We are confident that the beam-steering antenna is good for a wide range of 5G and 6G applications, as well as satellite and the Internet of Things.


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