Grand Challenge: Breaking the Frequency Barrier

Wireless communications technology now touches more areas of our lives than we could have imagined 10 years ago. We search the web while walking on a village street, telephone friends when bussing home from work, send photographs to social media sitting in a canoe in the middle of a lake; and these are just a few of the modern advances that rely on wireless communications.

Facing the spectrum crunch

Between the expansion in mobile communications services and the huge influx of wireless devices entering the market, however, we are rapidly running out of mobile-communications spectrum with the capacity (bandwidth) to carry the onslaught of digital data we expect in the near future. Where, then, will our next-generation 5G network find the bandwidth to support our increasingly wireless world?

Researchers working on CRC's Breaking the Frequency Barrier (BFB) Grand Challenge are taking a pioneering approach to next-generation mobile broadband. Rather than focusing their research efforts on the radio frequency (RF) bands currently used for mobile communications, they are exploring the potential of harnessing much higher frequencies to carry our digital data.

A new way to network

Since these high-frequency waves have never been used for mobile broadband, the challenges are significant, but so are the potential pay-offs. These high-frequency bands have the bandwidth needed to handle the oncoming torrent of digital data, but equally as important, they are a blank canvas, a place where researchers can develop innovative technology and specifications for a next-generation 5G network that is:

  • Smart: Capable of sensing spectrum use, making decisions about how to send data most efficiently, then setting up the connections to do so.
  • Flexible: Where users' devices will "know" the location of fixed towers and be able to access them on the move either directly, or via other users' devices. The network can thus change configuration, decide what frequencies to use without human intervention, and make these decisions in a way that doesn't degrade service.

High frequency mobile test bed

CRC scientists with the BFB project are studying high-frequency RF bands to get a clear understanding of how they can be harnessed for mobile broadband. Their work extends from examining how high-frequency waves interact with the physical environment, to developing the specialized systems needed to transmit and receive in these high frequencies, right through to setting up a testbed network in an indoor and an outdoor environment. Their goal is to develop the fundamental knowledge and technology needed by government and industry to exploit these high-frequency bands for mobile communications.

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