Engineers at Samsung estimate that government regulators could free as much as 100 GHz of millimeter-wave spectrum for mobile communications—about 200 times what mobile networks use today
These waves don’t penetrate solid materials very well. They also tend to lose more energy than do lower frequencies over long distances, because they are readily absorbed or scattered by gases, rain, and foliage. And because a single millimeter-wave antenna has a small aperture, it needs more power to send and receive data than is practical for cellular systems.
Samsung’s engineers say their technology can overcome these challenges by using an array of multiple antennas to concentrate radio energy in a narrow, directional beam, thereby increasing gain without upping transmission power. Such beam-forming arrays, long used for radar and space communications, are now being used in more diverse ways.
Illustration: Erik Vrielink 5g Beam Scheme: Steerable millimeter-wave beams could enable multigigabit mobile connections. Phones at the edge of a 4G cell [blue] could use the beams to route signals around obstacles. Because the beams wouldn’t overlap, phones could use the same frequencies [pink] without interference. Phones near the 4G tower could connect directly to it [green].
The Intellectual Ventures spin-off Kymeta, for instance, is developing metamaterials-based arrays in an effort to bring high-speed satellite broadband to remote or mobile locations such as airplanes.
Samsung’s current prototype is a matchbook-size array of 64 antenna elements connected to custom-built signal-processing components. By dynamically varying the signal phase at each antenna, this transceiver generates a beam just 10 degrees wide that it can switch rapidly in any direction, as if it were a hyperactive searchlight. To connect with one another, a base station and mobile radio would continually sweep their beams to search for the strongest connection, getting around obstructions by taking advantage of reflections.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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