Reflective Surfaces: The Future of UK Wireless Broadband?

11/01/2024
Optical fiber light
Optical fiber light

Ofcom Collaborates with Queen Mary University on Groundbreaking Research

Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, has teamed up with Queen Mary University of London to explore a new frontier in wireless broadband coverage. The research focuses on the potential application of reflective surfaces, known as “Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces” (RIS), to extend the reach of mobile and wireless broadband networks.

Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces: A New Path for Signal Enhancement

RIS are non-amplifying devices that create beneficial signal paths, or multipath diversity, between wireless terminals in non-line of sight situations. This area of study is currently a hotbed of activity, but standardisation is still in its early stages. It’s expected that existing relay and repeater technologies will play a significant role in shaping this field.

Study Focuses on Frequencies Compatible with 5G

The research primarily examined frequencies below 6GHz, including those compatible with 5G technology. The study found that when these surfaces were placed at a distance from the original signal, the wireless signal was improved. Although the observed behaviours could be pertinent to higher frequencies, the research did not extend to higher millimetre-wave frequencies.

Reflective Surfaces: A Cost-Effective Solution to Network Coverage?

The appeal of this active research area lies in its potential as a low-cost, low-complexity solution to extend network coverage. However, the research also highlighted potential issues. These include unwanted scattering effects, which can increase interference and degrade terminal performance. Additionally, redirecting wireless coverage with reflective surfaces may enhance one area while weakening another. There’s also a risk that reflective surfaces could alter the propagation conditions of out-of-band frequencies, potentially affecting existing services.

Regulatory Implications Require Further Investigation

The report acknowledges the potential benefits of reflective surfaces but also emphasises the need for more research. Experts must further investigate the regulatory implications of deploying these surfaces, particularly in environments where multiple independent networks and services coexist.

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