Researchers in the UK have developed a beam-steering antenna using a metamaterial to increase the efficiency of millimetre wave transmissions in 5G and 6G systems.
The team at the University of Birmingham show the device can provide continuous ‘wide-angle’ beam steering, allowing it to track a moving mobile phone user in the same way that a satellite dish turns to track a moving object, but with significantly enhanced speeds.
For 5G mmWave applications, prototypes of the beam-steering antenna at 26 GHz show unprecedented data transmission efficiency, says the team. The device is fully compatible with existing 5G specifications that are currently used by mobile communications networks.
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The design does not require the complex and inefficient feeding networks required for commonly deployed antenna systems, instead using a low complexity system which improves performance and is simple to fabricate.
The beam-steering antenna was developed by Dr James Churm, Dr Muhammad Rabbani, and Professor Alexandros Feresidis, Head of the Metamaterials Engineering Laboratory, for fixed base station antenna
Around the size of an iPhone, the technology uses a metamaterial made from a metal sheet with an array of regularly spaced holes that are micrometres in diameter. An actuator controls the height of a cavity within the metamaterial, delivering micrometre movements, and, according to its position, the antenna will control the deflection of the beam of a radio wave. This concentrates the beam into a highly directive signal and then redirects the energy as desired to increase the efficiency of transmission.
The team is now developing and testing prototypes at higher frequencies and in applications that take it 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,” said Churm. “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 defence applications.”
“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,” he said. “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.”
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.
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