Can a New Discovery Take Future Wireless Networks Beyond 5G?


The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to cause major delays in the deployment of 5G networks worldwide. However, these delays are likely to vary by region. In the U.S., the rollout has managed to maintain its current pace, albeit with some regional setbacks. While Europe should see major delays, other regions such as China may see major growth. 

 “We see a number of countries actually accelerating investment in 5G and 4G capacity in response to the pandemic,” Börje Ekholm, CEO of Ericsson, told The Verge

Can “Leaky Waveguides” Take Future Wireless Networks Beyond 5G?

Terahertz waves are thought to be the key to the next generation of wireless networks beyond 5G. These waves deliver data at trillions of bits per second, or terabits, and are thought to be the key to unlocking 6G. However, terahertz beams are ten times narrower than those in 5G networks. This makes “link discovery,” in which transmitters scan for and connect to devices within networks, much more difficult and time-consuming. 

In April, a group of scientists announced in the Nature Communications journal that they invented a solution that can speed terahertz “link discovery.” Dubbed the “leaky waveguide,” this technology consists of a pair of metal plates, each with a narrow slit through which radiation can escape. A pulse is directed between the plates, which are placed at a distance from each other. The pulse contains a wide range of terahertz frequencies. Each frequency exits the slit from a unique angle and travels between the plates. 

Each transmitter and receiver in the network is equipped with a leaky waveguide. Depending on where a receiver is located in relation to a transmitter, it will interpret different frequencies. It will then send signals back to the access point, detailing which frequencies it sensed. This, in turn, gives the access point insight into the receiver’s location. 

“The fact that you can make this measurement fast means that you can do it many times per second, which means that you can keep track of a receiver even if it is moving,” senior author of the study Daniel Mittleman told IEEE Spectrum. “That means that we can now envision terahertz networks that incorporate a mobile receiver.”

The array of frequencies that a receiver interprets through the leaky waveguide allows it to figure out how the access point and receiver are oriented in relation to each other. In this scenario, for example, even if a receiver is swiveling around, its location would be relatively easy to determine. While the small-scale study is promising, the technology still needs to be tested on a larger scale to be proven effective, according to Mittleman. “A more realistic test-bed at real-world scales would be a very interesting future step,” he told IEEE Spectrum. 

Understanding 5G Networks

It’s vital for technical professionals and industry leaders to understand how to deliver on the 5G vision and meet consumer demand for higher communication speeds. Is your organization ready? Consider training your team with 5G Networks, a new course program from IEEE and Nokia.

Connect with an IEEE Content Specialist today to learn more about the program.

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Pesovic, Ana. (9 May 2020). Fiber: the secret ingredient to 5G’s success. Gigabit Magazine.

Porter, Jon. (1 May 2020). Businesses are hinting at 5G rollout delays. The Verge. 

Choi, Charles Q. (28 April 2020). Rapid Matchmaking for Terahertz Network Transmitters and Receivers. IEEE Spectrum.

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