Scientific breakthrough could usher in new era of 6G communications

A matchbook-sized antenna developed at the University of Glasgow could pave the way to the world of holographic calls, improved autonomous driving, and better medical care.

The innovative wireless communications antenna combines the unique properties of metamaterials with sophisticated signal processing and could help deliver the 6G networks of the future, according to the University of Glasgow.

The prototype of the digitally coded dynamic metasurface antenna, or DMA, is controlled through a high-speed field-programmable gate array, or FPGA.

It’s the first in the world designed and demonstrated at an operating frequency of 60 GHz millimeter-wave (mmWave) band, which is reserved by international law for use in industrial, scientific, and medical 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.

This could help future 6G networks deliver ultra-fast data transfer with high reliability and ensure high-quality service and seamless connectivity, leading to new applications in communication, sensing, and imaging.

“This meticulously designed prototype is a very exciting development in the field of next-generation adaptive antennas,” said Professor Qammer H. Abbasi, one of the study’s lead authors and a co-director of the University of Glasgow’s Communications, Sensing and Imaging Hub.

Abbasi said that the device “leaps beyond previous cutting-edge development in reconfigurable programmable antennas.” While other DMAs have been demonstrated by researchers around the world, “our prototype pushes the technology much further,” he said.

The invention has a wide range of potential applications. In medicine, it could help directly monitor patients’ vital signs and keep track of their movements. It could also enable improved autonomous systems, which would mean better self-driving cars and drones.

The improved speed of data transfer could even help create holographic imaging, allowing convincing 3D models of people and objects to be projected anywhere in the world in real time.

Dr Masood Ur Rahman from the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering, who led the antenna development, 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,” Rahman said.

The paper detailing the research was published in the IEEE Open Journal of Antennas and Propagation.

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