Glasgow University research could enable the future of 6G networks

A research team led by Glasgow University has developed a wireless communications antenna which could help deliver the ultra-fast and software-controlled 6G networks of the future.

University of Glasgow

The researchers developed a prototype digitally coded dynamic metasurface antenna (DMA), controlled through high-speed field-programmable gate array (FPGA).

The team’s DMA is the first in the world designed and demonstrated at the operating frequency of 60 GHz millimetre-wave (mmWave) band – the portion of the spectrum reserved by international law for use in industrial, scientific, and medical (ISM) applications.

Researchers said that 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, and the future of 6G as a whole.

Specifically, the DMA could help 6G networks deliver ultra-fast data transfer with high reliability, ensuring high-quality service and connectivity, according to the Glasgow University researchers.

With this, the development could enable new applications including medical monitoring and care, improved integrated sensing and communications devices for autonomous vehicles like self-driving cars or drones, and holographic imaging for 3D models of people and objects projected in real-time.

According to the team, the DMA’s high-frequency operation is made possible by specially-designed metamaterials, structures which have been engineered to maximise their ability to interact with electromagnetic waves in ways that are impossible in naturally-occurring materials.

The DMA uses fully-tunable metamaterial elements which have been engineered to manipulate electromagnetic waves through software control, creating an advanced class of leaky-wave antennas capable of high-frequency reconfigurable operation.

The ‘matchbook-sized’ prototype uses high-speed interconnects with simultaneous parallel control of individual metamaterial elements through FPGA programming. The DMA can shape its communications beams and create multiple beams at once, switching in nanoseconds to ensure network coverage remains stable. 

In a statement, Dr Masood Ur Rehman, from the University of Glasgow, 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.

“We’ll work toward the extension of this design in the near future to offer more flexible and versatile antenna performance and continue to play our part to meet the needs of our increasingly connected smart world.”

The research was supported by funding from the Pakistan-UK Education Gateway (DePWiSeN project) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The paper, published in the IEEE Open Journal of Antennas and Propagation, can be accessed in full here.