A research project at the University of Exeter is aiming to develop new metamaterials that will boost the rollout of 5G wireless systems.

Microwave engineering company, Flann Microwave, is working with PhD researcher Julia De Pineda-Gutiérrez from the Department of Physics and Astronomy (above, with CEO of Flann, Professor James Watts) on a four-year project which aims to use metamaterials for new antenna designs for point-to-point radio networks.

The new materials should make the antenna systems smaller, lighter and cheaper to make and install. One of the challenges of moving from 4G to 5G phone networks is the need for more regularly placed, highly directional microwave antennas to handle the increased data volumes and speeds involved.

The University hosts a £12 million EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Metamaterials (XM2), and Prof Watts sits on the XM2 Oversight Board.

“This is incredibly exciting work which has implications nationally and internationally in the development of next-generation communications networks, which face a considerable challenge in moving from 4G to 5G, much more so than with the step up from 3G to 4G,” he said.

“The University of Exeter has a growing reputation in the field of metamaterials research. We are excited at an academic level and by the practical and commercial opportunities which we hope will flow from this project and which could one day become mainstream in network development.”

The research will develop metamaterials with surface structures that can be used to manipulate radio waves to form the narrow beams needed for communication between mobile base stations.

This opens the prospect of subtly incorporating antennas into everyday features and structures.

Flann has a 60-strong team in Bodmin, Cornwall, developing equipment for the telecoms, government, automotive, aerospace, defence and research sectors, exporting more than 80 percent of its production.

Flann Microwave offers an in-house waveguide test and calibration service at flann.com/services/


Nick Flaherty