Digital Antennas to Increase Data Tranfer & Efficiency on Mobile Phones

Researchers at Aalto University's have developed a method that allows antennas to make the shift from the analogue to the digital world. Most antennas used today are based on technology developed half a century ago i.e one antenna works at a specific frequency or a few different frequencies. The researchers have taken advantage of advanced digital electronics and combined several small antenna elements to work together as one antenna that can be made to operate digitally with any frequency.

Using this technology, a number of smartphone applications like GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi will no longer need to have separate antennas. Instead, all of the phone’s data transfer will be able to take place through one digitally controlled antenna. This in turn will make phones easier to design and enable a larger screen size relative to phone size as the antenna will not require as much space.

The new antenna concept also makes it possible to reach higher data transfer speed, improved batter life and greater efficiency required for the next generation of phones. These new antennas may also dispose of the analog components that traditional antennas use to tune into a desired frequency. This facilitates antenna design and enables the creation of more compact antennas with better radiation efficiency.

With antennas designed using the standard technology, it is possible to obtain either a broad frequency range or high efficiency, but not both at the same time. Antennas’ radiation efficiency has in recent times been falling because the frequency range used by mobile phones has been continuously increasing. Poor radiation efficiency leads to a short transmission range, for which network operators are then forced to compensate with a denser network of base stations. Energy is wasted in both the phone and the base station. In addition, increasing the network density is expensive.

Professor of Radio Engineering Ville Viikari believes that the new method will revolutionise the fifth generation of mobile phones and maintain Finland as one of the leading countries in the development of mobile phone antennas. For example, the antenna type developed by the Department of Radio Science and Engineering at the beginning of the 21st century is the main type in use in current phones.

The next step in the development process is under way with the commencement of tests in cooperation with Huawei using 5G mobile phone devices. They are also developing digital electronic systems for controlling the antennas.

An article detailing the principles of the method has been published in journal IEEE Antennas and Wireless Propagation Letters - Concept for Frequency Reconfigurable Antenna Based on Distributed Transceivers.