Novel antenna boosts satellite broadband

Discrete self-aligning antennas could facilitate faster, more efficient internet connection to aircraft, trains and rural broadband ‘not spots’.

The Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT) at Queen’s University Belfast is working on an 18-month project to develop a self-steering antenna that is lighter and less power hungry than current alternatives.

The team, led by Prof Vincent Fusco, plans to complete work on a 1.6GHz demonstrator — capable of providing transfer rates of 0.5Mbits/s — with a power requirement of just 2W.

It is anticipated that the device will ultimately have the capability to operate at 20-30GHz in order to provide much greater bandwidth.

The design currently being worked on is a 4×5 element planar array measuring 30 x 40cm and just 12mm deep.

Dr Neil Buchanan, lead engineer on the project, said: ’We believe that self-tracking antennas offer the prospect of much simpler and more cost-effective alternatives to other current approaches… the solution we are currently working on could reduce power consumption by a factor of 10, weight by a factor of five and cost by a factor of four.’

Uniquely, the circuits of the proposed design are entirely analogue and incorporate specially adapted phase-locked loop circuits. By contrast, conventional circuits convert incoming signals to digital, process them electronically and then convert them back to analogue. This, however, limits their frequency, and increases their complexity, cost and power requirements.

It is hoped the work could lead to a one-size-fits-all solution that could be optimised for a variety of technologies presently used to deliver satellite broadband and television to travellers, as well as customers in broadband ‘not spots’. The research project is being conducted for the European Space Agency (ESA).