Beam steering antenna for mmWave, 5G and beyond

Metamaterial-based beam forming antenna could increase efficiciency of 5G transmissions and open up new high frequency applications, claim its researchers.

Researchers from the University of Birmingham have presented experimental results of a new antenna type that is designed to work at mmWave and higher band frequencies.

A press release from the University said the antenna would be able to open “up a range of frequencies that are inaccessible to currently used technologies,” and claimed that “prototypes of the beam-steering antenna at 26 GHz have shown unprecedented data transmission efficiency.”

The beam-steering antenna was developed by Dr James Churm, Dr Muhammad Rabbani, and Professor Alexandros Feresidis, Head of the Metamaterials Engineering Laboratory, as a solution for fixed, base station antenna, for which current technology shows reduced efficiency at higher frequencies, limiting the use of these frequencies for long-distance transmission.

Around the size of an iPhone, the antenna employs a metamaterial made from a metal sheet with an array of regularly spaced holes that are micrometres in diameter.  An actuator controls the height of a cavity within the metamaterial, delivering micrometre movements, and, according to its position, the antenna will control the deflection of the beam of a radio wave – effectively ‘concentrating’ the beam into a highly directive signal, and then ‘redirecting this energy as desired’ – whilst also increasing the efficiency of transmission.

At a previous presentation, the team described the antenna as a high gain (20 dBi) Leaky-Wave Antenna (LWA), presented at 26 GHz with beam steering capabilities for high data throughput in mmWave 5G systems. It described a tunable phase-shifting High Impedance Surface (HIS) – the metamaterial design described above – exhibiting low loss (<0.1  dB) for the antenna’s beam steering. A Piezo-Electric Actuator (PEA) is employed to electromechanically tune the HIS.

“The LWA has been demonstrated by deploying it within a 5G testbed operating within the 26GHz band. It was observed that the channel performance can significantly be improved utilising the beam steering capability of the antenna when the line-of-sight (LOS) is blocked by an obstacle.”

The team is now developing and testing prototypes at higher frequencies and in applications that take it beyond 5G mobile communications.

Dr Churm was quoted in the release as saying: “Although we developed the technology for use in 5G, our current models show that our beam steering technology may be capable of 94% efficiency at 300 GHz.  The technology can also be adapted for use in vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, vehicular radar, and satellite communications, making it good for next generation use in automotive, radar, space and defence applications.”

University of Birmingham Enterprise has filed a patent application for this next generation beam-steering antenna technology, and is seeking industry partners for collaboration, product development or licensing.

The efficiency and other aspects of the underpinning technology have been subjected to the peer review process, published in journals, and presented at academic conferences.

Dr Churm added: “We are assembling a further body of work for publication and presentation that will demonstrate a level of efficiency that has not yet been reported for transmission of radio waves at these challenging frequencies.  The simplicity of the design and the low cost of the elements are advantageous for early adoption by industry, and the compact electronics configuration make it easy to deploy where there are space constraints.  We are confident that the beam-steering antenna is good for a wide range of 5G and 6G applications, as well as satellite and the Internet of Things.”

Beam Steering Leaky-Wave Antenna for High Efficiency Terahertz Communication and Sensing was presented by James Churm, Muhammad Rabbani and Alexandros Feresidis at the 3rd International Union of Radio Science Atlantic / Asia-Pacific Radio Science Meeting on Friday, 03 June 2022.

Further references:

  1. Rabbani et al (2022). Enhanced Data Throughput Using 26 GHz Band Beam-Steered Antenna for 5G Systems16th European Conference on Antennas and Propagation (EuCAP).
  2. Rabbani et al (2022). ‘Continuous Beam-Steering Low-Loss Millimeter-Wave Antenna Based on a Piezo-Electrically Actuated Metasurface’. IEEE Transactions on Antennas and Propagation.
  3. Rabbani et al (2021).  ‘Electro-Mechanically Tunable Meta-Surfaces for Beam-Steered Antennas from mm-Wave to THz’. 50th European Microwave Conference (EuMC).
  4. Rabbani et al (2020).  ‘THz Leaky-Wave Antenna Beam Steering With Low Loss Dynamic Tuning’.  IEEE International Symposium on Antennas and Propagation and North American Radio Science Meeting, 2020.