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Birmingham Scientists Create New 5G Beam Steering Antenna

Monday, June 6th, 2022 (9:27 am) - Score 1,752
New-mmW-5G-and-6G-beam-steering-antenna-design

A team from the University of Birmingham‘s School of Engineering in England has developed a new beam-steering antenna for future 5G and 6G mobile (mobile broadband) networks, which claims to have achieved “vast improvements in data transmission efficiency” via a range of frequencies that are “inaccessible” to existing technologies.

The new device can apparently provide continuous ‘wide-angle’ beam steering, allowing it to track a moving mobile phone user in the same way that some satellite dishes turn to track a moving object, but with “significantly enhanced speeds“.

NOTE: The antenna was developed by Dr James Churm, Dr Muhammad Rabbani, and Professor Alexandros Feresidis. Related research here, here, here and here.

The improvements were seen at frequencies ranging across the millimetre wave (mmW) spectrum, specifically those identified for 5G and 6G networks, where “high efficiency is currently only achievable using slow, mechanically steered antenna solutions“. The prototype antenna was tested using spectrum in the 26GHz band.

The antenna itself is said to be about the size of an iPhone, and it harnesses a metamaterial, which is 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 – effectively ‘concentrating’ the beam into a highly directive signal, and then ‘redirecting this energy as desired’ – whilst also increasing the efficiency of transmission.

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, 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. 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.”

One of the biggest problems with mmW bands stems from signal degradation over distance, which tends to restrict their use to dense urban areas of high footfall (shopping malls, airports etc.) or as fixed wireless access (FWA) links for specific homes and businesses. The weak signals simply can’t travel very far within the low power environment of a mobile network, which is a shame because such bands can carry vast amounts of data.

The new antenna, which is said to be “fully compatible with existing 5G specifications“, could help to change that. Moreover, the new technology 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 team is now developing and testing prototypes at higher frequencies and in applications that take it beyond 5G mobile communications. The University of Birmingham Enterprise has also filed a patent application for new beam-steering antenna technology, and is seeking industry partners for collaboration, product development or licensing.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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8 Responses
  1. Winston Smith says:

    Hmmm, satellite dishes generally don’t track moving objects hence geo stationary orbits. Starlink tracks LEO stallites using a mixture of mechanical dish movement and phased array electronic beam forming for high speed fine control.

    1. Jimmy says:

      An uplink for a geostationary satellite is always tracking its position and making mechanical adjustments as it moves around. If not, it just sits on the centre of the box the satellite occupies with consequentially less power making it to the satellite, impacting the link budget.

      The downlink dishes are simply big enough and have enough power hitting them they work even if they’re not dead-on the right direction, which is why “Sky dishes” in the UK can pick up signals from both 28.2 and 28.5 orbital positions!

  2. 5G_Infinity says:

    Mark,

    For FWA and mmWave, US Cellular is the current record holder – up to 5 miles (9km) with 1gbps download speeds using Nokia 5G FWA kit.

    Re beamsteering antenna, this is the second attempt coming out of B’ham Uni, first spinout ‘Smart Antenna’ stayed around for 5 years and then went into administration.

    Looking at this antenna, seems like its more useful at the 100 to 300GHz range, so 6G rather than 5G if we are counting GHz. Also be interesting to see what power levels it can handle and whether it can be made ETSI compliant.

  3. Gary says:

    “Birmingham Scientists” tops the oxymoron list.

    1. HR2Res says:

      In response to this I was going to say “… and Gary tops the moron list”. But I thought better of that and instead wracked my brain (and Google) to come up with the following instead.

      Like Nobel Prize for Chemistry winner Francis Aston (born in Brum). Like James Watt, who, granted, though born in Scotland, did a lot of his work in Birmingham. Like physicist and mathematician John Poynting, professor at Birmingham Uni from about 1880 when a lot of his major triumphs were made. Like Alfred Bird, inventor of eggless custard and baking powder, though not born in Brum, spent most of his life there making guess what?

      Birmingham Uni alumni also include Paul Nurse and John Vane (both Nobel Laureates), Alan Cottrell, and Desmond Morris.

    2. JP says:

      Ahh never-ending, the reality from the point of view of someone living in Brum at the moment is that everyone wants to he here apparently.

      Half of London has moved in and crippled local rental markets, half of Hong Kong has moves in and done the same a reshaped communities whilst at it too.

      The northern monkeys as it was once referred are being forced out of their native crap slingling lands, ironic really.

    3. t4n0n says:

      @HR2Res You’re also forgetting John Randall and Harry Boot – inventors of the cavity magnetron, which is generally considered the most important invention that helped the allies win the Second World War.

      This was the key enabling technology for radar and is still used in every microwave oven today.

  4. Ad47uk says:

    So what happens when more than one person is using that antenna, surly it can’t beam in different directions?
    I can imagine some people saying that it is beaming harmful radio waves.
    5G needs to be more reliable if they want people to accept it, I know many people who have 5G phones, not here, but in other lager cities, and they all say that 5G is a total and complete waste of time, and most now will turn off 5G on their phones.
    5G here is few and far between.

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