3D printed MIMO tile antenna for 5G+ designs

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

Researchers from Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering have developed a 3D printed tile to boost the bandwidth of next generation 5G cellular and IoT systems using multiple antennas.

The 3D printed tile-based approach scales to 256 antennas to construct on-demand, massively scalable arrays of 5G+ (5G/Beyond 5G) smart skins on nearly any surface or object. The tiles are assembled onto a single, flexible underlying layer that allows arrays to be attached to a multitude of surfaces and provides very large 5G+ phased/electronically steerable antenna array networks.

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The team fabricated a proof-of-concept, flexible 5×5-centimeter tile array and wrapped it around a 3.5-centimeter radius curvature. Each tile includes an antenna subarray and an integrated, beamforming integrated circuit on an underlying tiling layer to create a smart skin that can seamlessly interconnect the tiles into very large antenna arrays and massive multiple-input multiple-outputs (MIMOs).

They are currently working on the fabrication of much larger, fully inkjet-printed tile arrays with 256  elements that will be presented at the upcoming International Microwave Symposium (IEEE IMS 2022. The IMS presentation will introduce a new tile-based large-area architecture version that will allow assembly of customizable tile arrays in a rapid and low-cost fashion for numerous conformal platforms and 5G+ enabled applications.

The proposed modular tile approach means tiles of identical sizes can be manufactured in large quantities and are easily replaceable, reducing the cost of customization and repairs. Essentially, this approach combines removable elements, modularity, massive scalability, low cost, and flexibility into one system.

While the tiling architecture has demonstrated the ability to greatly enhance 5G+ technologies, its combination of flexible and conformal capabilities has the potential to be applied in numerous different environments, says the team.

“The shape and features of each tile scale can be singular and can accommodate different frequency bands and power levels,” said Prof Emmanouil (Manos) Tentzeris at Georgia Tech. “One could have communications capabilities, another sensing capabilities, and another could be an energy harvester tile for solar, thermal, or ambient RF energy. The application of the tile framework is not limited to communications.”

The team is also looking at how the tiles can be used in the Internet of Things and smart manufacturing/Industry 4.0.

“The tile-architecture’s mass scalability makes its applications particularly diverse and virtually ubiquitous. From structures the size of dams and buildings, to machinery or cars, down to individual health-monitoring wearables,” said Tentzeris. “We’re moving in a direction where everything will be covered in some type of a wireless conformal smart skin encompassing a communication system or antenna that allows for effective monitoring.”

“Typically, there are a lot of smaller wireless network systems working together, but they are not scalable. With the current techniques, you can’t increase, decrease, or direct bandwidth, especially for very large areas,” said Tentzeris. “Being able to utilize and scale this novel tile-based approach makes this possible.”

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