Electronics

Metasurface Breakthrough Boosts Advanced Telecommunications


Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have created a compact reflective surface, revolutionizing urban communication with superior electromagnetic signal control.

Dual-resonance unit cell with three copper layers on a printed circuit board and a backplane. The front and back of the unit cell are also shown, which, respectively, host a varactor and series varactor-resistor pair. Credit: Physical Review Applied (2023). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevApplied.20.014004
Dual-resonance unit cell with three copper layers on a printed circuit board and a backplane. The front and back of the unit cell are also shown, which, respectively, host a varactor and series varactor-resistor pair. Credit: Physical Review Applied (2023). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevApplied.20.014004

Urban landscapes often challenge communication signals. As a radio wave journeys from a mobile device to a router, then to a cell tower and finally to its intended receiver, it ricochets off walls, buildings, and various obstructions. Each collision with a barrier disperses the radio wave, weakening the signal. This consequently shrinks the available bandwidth. Concurrently, this signal vies for bandwidth with many other nearby devices, limiting the data it can convey.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have developed an innovative compact and lightweight reflective surface that has the potential to transform communications in densely populated areas, offering unparalleled management of electromagnetic signals, including radio waves. Engineers historically used repeaters to boost communication signals and bypass obstacles. As this technology hits its limit, attention turns to altering the signal with reconfigurable intelligent surfaces (RIS).

Harnessing both magnitude and phase

The team meticulously analyzed a two-layer metasurface, incorporating patch elements, control dials, varactor diodes, and resistors to enhance control over essential parameters. This intricate design birthed a versatile cascaded metasurface capable of independently managing magnitude and phase, all compactly fitted on an economical printed circuit board. The updated material corrects metasurfaces’ inconsistent signal loss using two resonant materials. This compact, lightweight metasurface offers advanced electromagnetic control and can be placed around a city to boost cell or Wi-Fi signals.

Reducing power requirements through reflection

Traditional repeaters retransmit signals using power-intensive methods and bulky equipment, often involving antennas or arrays of multiple antennas. In contrast, the team’s dynamic cascaded metasurfaces enhance signals by bouncing them off patterned surfaces. The researchers believe this technology could operate on something as simple as a nine-volt battery.

Other potential technology applications

Controlling electromagnetic waves’ magnitude and phase has vast applications beyond telecommunications. Dynamic metasurfaces could lead to compact, energy-efficient sensors. The researchers believe widespread interest in the technology is promising, and they are eager to expand its uses.

Reference: Timothy Sleasman et al, Dual-Resonance Dynamic Metasurface for Independent Magnitude and Phase Modulation, Physical Review Applied (2023). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevApplied.20.014004