Future Communication Technologies

This research theme encompasses two key areas: the metrology challenges posed by the emerging 5G communications network, and the use of quantum technologies in the fields of computing, communications and sensing.

5G communications

In the 5G era, the Internet of Things – where billions of devices will be connected – will require a far greater radio spectrum than we currently use today, posing a number of metrology and measurement challenges.

Hosting the UK’s only centre dedicated to 5G communications – the 5G Innovation Centre – as well as a live test-bed for prototyping 5G solutions, the University of Surrey is well-placed to work with NPL to solve these challenges.

Lecturer in RF Antennas and Propagation, Dr Tim Brown explains: “The scarcity of spectrum will mean that users of different frequency bands need to start making space for each other.

"We are already beginning to see this problem with 4G because this uses some frequencies which are close to those occupied by TV networks; in the future it will become a far bigger challenge when many more independent forms of radio transmission need to coexist within a crowded spectrum.”

Key areas addressed by this research theme

Dealing with radio interference

With a large number of devices using adjacent bands, and a multitude of operators involved, it is anticipated that radio interference will be a problem in the 5G era.

Surrey and NPL are looking at how the coexistence of devices requiring radio frequencies will work and, when billions of devices start to transmit signals near to, or even within, already-used frequency bands, and how to quantify the effect this will have on communication.

Work carried out aims to find ways of defining and measuring the interference, which can be used to test devices and mobile networks in terms of their resilience to interference.

Intelligent antennas

This research looks at optimising the directions in which antennas will transmit and receive electromagnetic energy on both mobile devices and base stations to enable them to deliver the maximum possible data within the spectrum.

Using its combined knowledge of these advanced systems and its metrological expertise, the Surrey-NPL team is focused on how antennas can work together to pick up data, and how these highly complex mobile systems can be tested.

Measurement and modelling of nonlinear devices

This research investigates the modelling and characterisation of nonlinear devices operating in the microwave frequencies.

Based in the joint Surrey-NPL n3m-labs [insert link], the researchers are using a range of parameters including waveform, time- and frequency-domain representations, as well as traditional measurement parameters to characterise nonlinear devices.

Metrology for 5G communications (MET5G) 

Started in May 2015, this three-year European research MET5G is a collaboration between NPL, Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre, Chalmers GHz Centre, Cambridge Wireless and a number of other industrial partners.

The project’s overall objective is to provide a comprehensive metrology framework to underpin 5G technology. It aims to:

  • Define and develop traceable methods for Signal-to-Interference-plus Noise Ratio (SINR)
  • Radically improve metrology for traceable multiple input multiple (MIMO) antenna systems that maximise the efficiency with which spectrum is used
  • Establish traceable metrology for 5G communications components and devices
  • Impact industry end-users via 5G centres of excellence (including Surrey) and standards committees

The project is part of the European Metrology Programme for Innovation and Research (EMPIR) initiative

Quantum technologies

The emergence of quantum technologies has led to the global standards for currents and resistances, energies, time and mass to be redefined in terms of quantum properties.

The Surrey-NPL partnership is working on developing ways of measuring tiny amounts of matter (often single, isolated atoms) – research that will lay the foundations for applications in computation, communications and sensing. Current projects include:

Improving the quantum current standard 

Measuring electrical current would have unprecedented accuracy if it was possible to count individual electrons flowing through a microscopic version of a ‘kissing gate’. The challenge is to be able to open and close the gate carefully enough so that exactly one electron passes through every time.

To reduce the frequency of errors such as two electrons passing through, or none, the gate arrangement must be well controlled. To this end, Surrey is building a machine to implant individual impurity atoms, one by one, in to the gate structure to provide ultra-precise tailoring of the design.

Solid state technologies

As well as the work on silicon quantum technologies being done in the Hyper-Terahertz Facility, Surrey and NPL are also working together on other ‘solid state’ technologies using superconducting circuits.

These circuits contain near-perfect resonators where single quantum packets of energy jump back and forth between a microscopic capacitor and inductor.

Building complex circuits out of the resonator building blocks could enable the development of a quantum computer in the long term, and in the short-term new and more accurate sensors such as magnetometers (to measure magnetic field) and gravitometers (to measure gravitational field).

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