Earlier this month, headlines trumpeted an agreement between the Federal Aviation Authority and major U.S. cellular carriers that allows 5G service to commence without further regulatory delays. Despite some lingering controversy among aviation safety advocates, the deal opens the gates for widespread deployment of next generation commercial wireless networks. Mini-Circuits supplies a wide range of products to 5G hardware developers for testing and system use, but the real buzz on the floor of our Brooklyn labs has already moved on to 6G.
On January 10, Mini-Circuits welcomed graduate researchers from NYU WIRELESS to our facilities as part of their efforts to pave the way for the next great revolution in wireless communications. Still about a decade away from deployment, much about sixth-generation (6G) wireless technologies remains to be defined, but at a high level 6G will build on previous technologies to allow even greater bandwidth, lower latency and more unprecedented applications than 5G networks with the ultimate vision of “unification of our experience across the physical, digital and human world,” according to Nokia Bell Labs Head of Radio Systems Research, Harish Viswanathan.
NYU WIRELESS is a multidisciplinary research center at NYU Tandon School of Engineering in Brooklyn focused on cutting-edge research in a number of advanced areas of wireless tech. One key area of focus is millimeter-wave and sub-terahertz (Sub-THz) communications and sensing. Led by Professor Theodore Rappaport, the center has been a pioneering force in developing a shared understanding of the millimeter wave bands used in 5G networks. Current research efforts now aim to establish equally sophisticated channel measurements, models and simulation capabilities for carrier frequencies in the Sub-THz range above 100 GHz.
Shihao Ju, a third-year PhD student at NYU WIRELESS is one of five researchers who began 2022 collecting radio propagation measurement data at Mini-Circuits’ Neptune Avenue test labs and Deer Park, Long Island warehouse facility. He and his fellow PhD candidates, Yunchou Xing, Ojas Kanhere, Dipankar Shakya and Hitesh Poddar comprise a research team dedicated to measuring and modelling the propagation characteristics of ultra-wideband signals at 142 GHz.
“We’re trying to develop the first general spatial statistical channel model for frequencies above 100 GHz for various environments,” said Shihao. “Before this, we were doing measurements in office buildings and outdoor urban street canyons. Now we’re doing it for industrial scenarios for future 6G-enabled smart factories.”
Channel models allow the engineers designing the wireless infrastructure to accurately simulate how signals behave in real-world environments, from inside buildings to urban streets, and even thinly settled rural expanses. Wireless standardization bodies such as 3GPP and IEEE 802.11 must agree on a single accepted channel model before companies can submit proposals for commercial development. The researchers’ work will be foundational to the standards that eventually come together as 6G evolves from concept to reality.
Capturing signal propagation behaviors and channel statistics in real-world factory and warehouse spaces is particularly important to opening up the cloud computing and automation capabilities needed to realize smart factories and industry 4.0. Manufacturing environments are often crowded with physical obstructions and electromagnetic interference from other machinery, which makes understanding signal behavior anything but straightforward.
“Signals propagating in any environment will get reflected, scattered or penetrate walls,” explained Shihao. “That’s going to create multipath components more than a mere line-of-sight, single path. Here, we can derive a faithful channel model based on the measured multipath data to provide a more realistic analysis of all different wireless system design problems.”
Mini-Circuits president, Ted Heil first learned of the work the research team was doing at the Brooklyn 6G summit hosted annually by Nokia and NYU WIRELESS at the Tandon campus. He approached professor Rappaport and offered to make Mini-Circuits’ facilities available as a test bed for his team. As one of the few companies maintaining industrial-scale manufacturing operations in the NYC area, it was a unique opportunity to collect much-needed data close to home.
The channel model that comes out of this effort will be the first of its kind. Shihao explained that models of this scope have been developed for lower frequencies, but at the frontiers of the Sub-THz spectral region, most measurements previously collected were done at low power over distances of only a few meters. The NYU team’s model will incorporate measurements at large scale up to 50 meters in the full range of environments that encompass real-world operating conditions.
Mini-Circuits has long been dedicated to fostering collaboration between academia and the RF/microwave industry, but this may be the first time one such collaboration will be instrumental to active research shaping the future of wireless communications. As you start to see more about how 5G and 6G are powering smart factories and transforming industry as we know it, think about how our humble facilities are baked into the research that made it all possible.