The antenna could help future 6G networks deliver ultra-fast data transfer with high reliability

Researchers from the University of Glasgow have developed an innovative wireless communications antenna which they say could pave the way for future 6G networks.

The antenna combines the unique properties of metamaterials with sophisticated signal processing to deliver a new peak of performance, the university said in a release.

The researchers recently showcased the development of a prototype digitally coded dynamic metasurface antenna, or DMA, controlled through high-speed field-programmable gate array (FPGA).

They claimed that their DMA is the first in the world designed and demonstrated its use in operations in the 60 GHz mmWave band, a portion of which is reserved for use in industrial, scientific, and medical (ISM) applications.

The antenna’s ability to operate in the higher mmWave band could enable it to become a key piece of hardware in the still-developing field of advanced beamforming metasurface antennas, the University of Glasgow said.

It could also help as-yet-unstandardized 6G networks deliver ultra-fast data transfer with high reliability, ensuring high-quality service and seamless connectivity and enable new applications in communication, sensing and imaging, the university added.

The DMA’s high-frequency operation was made possible by specially-designed “metamaterials”, which have been engineered to maximize their ability to interact with electromagnetic waves in ways that are impossible in naturally-occurring materials.

Professor Qammer Abbasi, co-director of the University of Glasgow’s Communications, Sensing and Imaging Hub, said: “This meticulously designed prototype is a very exciting development in the field of next-generation adaptive antennas, which leaps beyond previous cutting-edge developments in reconfigurable programmable antennas.”

“In recent years, DMAs have been demonstrated by other researchers around the world in microwave bands, but our prototype pushes the technology much further, into the higher mmWave band of 60 GHz. That makes it a potentially very valuable stepping stone towards new use cases of 6G technology and could pave the way for even higher-frequency operation in the terahertz range,” he added.

Masood Ur Rehman, from the University of Glasgow, James Watt School of Engineering, led the antenna development. He said: “6G has the potential to deliver transformative benefits across society. Our high-frequency intelligent and highly adaptive antenna design could be one of the technological foundation stones of the next generation of mmWave reconfigurable antennas. The programmable beam control and beam-shaping of the DMA could help in fine-grained mmWave holographic imaging as well as next-generation near-field communication, beam focusing, and wireless power transfer.”

In November 2023, the University of Glasgow announced the opening of new research lab dedicated to helping advance future 6G communications technologies.

The “Terahertz On-chip Circuit Test Cluster for 6G Communications and Beyond” lab, or TiC6G, was funded by a £2.6 million ($3.18 million) grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

In a release, the University of Glasgow noted that TiC6G houses a suite of instruments capable of testing prototype devices for as-yet-unstandardized 6G networks.

The 6G lab is located in the Center for Advanced Electronics at the James Watt School of Engineering. It will help enable research critical to developing the infrastructure, spectrum, and protocols needed to achieve 6G speeds, the university said.

6G has not yet been standardized, but research and development of candidate technologies and spectrum is well underway. The commercial launch of 6G networks is expected to occur around 2030.

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