How to feed data-hungry mobile devices? Use more antennas (w/ Video)

Aug 23, 2012

Researchers from Rice University unveiled a new multi-antenna technology that could help wireless providers keep pace with the voracious demands of data-hungry smartphones and tablets. The technology aims to dramatically increase network capacity by allowing cell towers to simultaneously beam signals to more than a dozen customers on the same frequency.

Details about the new technology, dubbed Argos, were presented at the Association for Computing Machinery's MobiCom 2012 research conference in Istanbul. Argos is under development by researchers from Rice, Bell Labs and Yale University. A prototype built at Rice this year uses 64 antennas to allow a single wireless base station to communicate directly to 15 users simultaneously with narrowly focused directional beams.

Thanks to the growing popularity of smartphones and other data-hungry devices, the demand for is expected to grow 18-fold within the next five years. To meet demand, wireless carriers are scrambling to boost network capacity by installing more wireless base stations and shelling out billions of dollars for the rights to broadcast on additional frequencies.

In tests at Rice, Argos allowed a single base station to track and send highly directional beams to more than a dozen users on the same frequency at the same time. The upshot is that Argos could allow carriers to increase network capacity without acquiring more spectrum.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

"The technical term for this is multi-user beamforming," said Argos project co-leader Lin Zhong, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and of computer science at Rice. "The key is to have many antennas, because the more antennas you have, the more users you can serve."

Zhong said the theory for multi-user beamforming has been around for quite some time, but implementing technology has proven extremely difficult. Prior to Argos, labs struggled to roll out prototype test beds with a handful of antennas.

"There are all kinds of technical challenges related to synchronization, computational requirements, scaling up and wireless standards," he said. "People have really questioned whether this is practical, so it's significant that we've been able to create a prototype that actually demonstrates that this works."

Argos presents new techniques that allow the number of antennas on base stations to grow to unprecedented scales. The Argos prototype, which was built by Rice graduate student Clayton Shepard, uses an array of 64 antennas and off-the-shelf hardware—including several dozen open-access test devices called WARP boards that were invented at Rice's Center for Multimedia Communications. In tests, Argos was able to simultaneously beam signals to as many as 15 users on the same frequency. For , that performance would translate to more than a six-fold increase in network capacity. Zhong said the base-station design can be scaled up to work with hundreds of antennas and several dozen concurrent users, which would result in much higher capacity gains.

"There's also a big payoff in energy savings," Shepard said. "The amount of power you need for transmission goes down in proportion to the number of antennas you have. So in Argos' case, we need only about one-sixty-fourth as much energy to serve those 15 users as you would need with a traditional ."

Zhong and Shepard said Argos is at least five years away from being available on the commercial market. It would require new network hardware and a new generation of smartphones and tablets. It might also require changes in wireless standards. Those are big hurdles, but Zhong said the potential benefits of multi-user beamforming technology make it a very likely next big step for the wireless industry.

"The bandwidth crunch is here, and carriers need options," Zhong said. "They're going to pay close attention to any new technologies that may allow them to serve more customers with fewer resources."

Explore further: Making smartphone browsing 20% faster while reducing power consumption by 40%

Related Stories

Jointly utilizing LTE networks

Feb 03, 2012

Data-intensive Internet applications on smartphones, tablets and laptops are more popular than ever before. The result: Traffic on the mobile network is increasing at a blinding speed. Intelligent technologies ...

LightRadio breakthroughs

Feb 08, 2011

The world of mobile communications moves fast. With new mobile devices, new applications and ever-growing and changing consumer demands the wireless networks in use today have to evolve. Rather than take an incremental approach ...

Recommended for you

Is sending shoppers ads by Bluetooth just a bit creepy?

Oct 17, 2014

Using Bluetooth wireless networking to send information to nearby smartphones, beacon technology could transform how retailers engage with their customers. But customers will notice how their information is ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

extinct
1 / 5 (1) Aug 23, 2012
more antennae equates to more electromagnetic bodily harm to the user of the device, i.e. you