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Nr. 88, 22.10.2016  voriger  Übersicht  weiter  REIHEN  SUCHE 

It all comes down to the antennae

Ingenious antennae technology is a key to wireless internet access of the future. The Faculty of Engineering at Kiel University leads the way.


Foto: Think-stock / Fotomontage pur.pur

Approximately every ten years, a new generation of mobile phone technology arrives on the market. It all started with the analogue A, B and C networks, the first generation and therefore collectively known as 1G. This was followed by the digital GSM Standard (2G), UMTS (3G) and the current state-of-the-art LTE (4G). However, experts have already been working on project 5G for a long time. In Germany, significant efforts have been made under the auspices of the priority programme “Drahtlose Ultrahoch­Mgeschwindigkeits­kommunikation für den mobilen Internetzugriff (Wireless Ultra High Data Rate Communication for Mobile Internet Access)” funded by the German Research Foundation.

Like many other universities in the country, the Faculty of Engineering at Kiel University is also working on the project, which started in 2013 and is planned to run for six years. According to Professor Peter A. Höher and his employee Niklas Doose, from the working group Information and Coding Theory, everything is organised based on the division of labour: “Each sub-project focusses on different key areas, but of course we exchange ideas and information on areas that overlap.”

The topic of antennae, which the scientists in Kiel are researching, is decisively important for an even faster mobile internet. Especially as it’s not just a slight increase in speed, but a giant leap. Transmission rates of up to 100 Gigabits per second are being discussed – which is easily a hundred times the performance of the best currently available and affordable smartphones.

The antennae technology was initially investigated from two different angles in Kiel. Professor Dirk Manteuffel, who has since moved to Hannover, focussed on the hardware. The core idea was and remains the principle of an antenna array. Many antennae are distributed in an area, so that they can simultaneously send and receive more and different signals.

This becomes tricky when it has to take place in as small a space as possible. “Of course, a smartphone can’t look like a hedgehog”, joked Peter Höher. Therefore, work is being carried out on further developing the technology that is already being used in these devices for reception. The difference is that instead of the current system where individual antennae are placed on the circuit board, the entire circuit board functions as a transmitter, and is transformed into an antenna array by mathematical processing.

While work on this already advanced process is now continuing in Hannover, Kiel is tackling an important related problem. If many signals are underway at the same time and on the same frequency, it can result in a chaotic mixture mixture of waves. The individual signals no longer remember which antenna they’re supposed to go to. This problem can be solved by coding, the speciality of Professor Höher.

According to Höher, signals which contain information in the form of bits, and thereby comprise sequences of the characters 0 and 1, inevitably get mixed on the way to their goals. Therefore, they must be individualised with additional parity bits (check bits) and a checksum, so that they can be uniquely identified and not confused with each other. To explain further, the scientist quoted an example: “Like with the IBAN, it is calculated based on the contents of the individual messages. If the checksum doesn’t match due to an incorrect input, one is requested to repeat the process.”

The coding has decisive advantages. Firstly, Höher is “fully convinced that an antenna array system will not work without coding”. And secondly, it is a purely software-based process, which means that in future, smartphones and other computers can be updated to the latest standard, and not quickly become electronic scrap. In particular, the Kiel approach has another advantage over many other sub-projects: they are work ing in a similar frequency range to the current mobile technology – instead of ten times the frequency – so the signals can much more easily travel through walls.

Why the internet of the future – which should already be a reality by 2020 – is being talked about as “Massive MIMO”, can be explained by another special feature. Due to the high-performance but also highly-complex reception technology, the majority of the hardware and software will soon be hidden in the respective access point, i.e. in a Fritzbox or other router. Thereby, smartphones or notebooks can remain as they are: cheap, small, elegant and energy-saving.

Martin Geist
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