In concert

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Mobile phone signal capacity could escalate with better quality video and quicker file downloads ifhandsets in a local area work together, UK researchers claim.

Mobile phone signal capacity could escalate with better quality video and quicker file downloads if handsets in a local area work together, UK researchers claim.

A team at King’s College London plans to test the hardware and algorithms needed to make a ‘virtual antenna array’ that allows handsets to transmit and receive heavy amounts of data by sharing packets via other mobiles close by. Antennas in mobile handsets today communicate directly with a base station, and so until higher capacity technologies are developed, video messaging and large file downloads can be relatively slow.

Dr Mischa Dohler, leading the upcoming three-year EPSRC project at King’s College’s Centre for Telecommunications Research, said one way to improve capacity is to increase the number of antennas in both the base station and the handset. ‘If you have multiple antennas at the transmitting and receiving ends, that will increase capacity, but you can’t get more than one antenna into each mobile handset,’ he said.

‘In a congested area there will be a lot of antennas all close together — we’ve all got mobile phones — but they’re not acting together,’ he said.

The virtual antenna array will use low-power short-range communication such as Bluetooth or ultra-wideband to allow antennas to work in concert. So if the base station needs to send a heavy amount of data, it has to transmit it only once to that particular virtual array at that moment rather than in individual chunks, increasing the top capacity that the system can handle.

So a stadium of football supporters using mobiles at the same time could access the network more easily because the base station is not having to deal with each caller individually.

Dohler said that the information coming via other handsets would remain secure.

‘If I handed you an encrypted file on a memory stick it wouldn’t help you read it,’ he said. The algorithms could also be applied to large networks of sensors to extend their life by up to three times.

‘Sensor networks are not very data hungry, but the distributed system can save you a lot of power,’ he said. The virtual antenna array concept emerged from the Mobile VCE project, a large international partnership of seven universities and 20 companies including Nokia, Siemens, Vodafone, Panasonic and BT.