3D-printed antennas could provide isolated areas with 5G and 6G service.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield have developed 3D-printed radio antennas that could help offer stronger mobile phone signals and speedier internet connections to individuals living in isolated villages.

Credit: University of Sheffield

Researchers from the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Sheffield have designed, fabricated, and tested millimeter wave (mmWave) aerials with radio frequency performance comparable to that of conventionally manufactured antennas. The 3D-printed antennas could expedite the building of new 5G and 6G infrastructure and aid in expanding access to these technologies for distant communities in the United Kingdom and around the world.

Manufacturing the antennas now utilized to construct communication networks is often time-consuming and expensive. This is inhibiting innovation, delaying the development of prototypes, and making the construction of new infrastructure difficult. The researchers at Sheffield have devised a new design that enables 3D printing to be used to produce radio antennas more cheaply and rapidly without sacrificing performance. The approach enables antennas to be created in as little as a few hours and for only a few pounds, yet with the same performance capabilities as conventionally produced antennas, which often cost hundreds of pounds to make.

Below are some 3D surface plots generated by the measurement lab; these plots illustrate a comparison between a conventionally manufactured example and the 3D printed antenna developed by the University of Sheffield team. The antennas use nanoparticles of silver, which have good electrical properties for radio frequency, and have been tested at various 5G and 6G network frequencies up to 48 GHz. Their gain and time domain response, which affects the direction and strength of signals they can receive and transmit, is virtually identical to that of conventionally made components.

Credit: University of Sheffield

“This 3D-printed design could be a game changer for the telecommunications industry. It enables us to prototype and produce antennas for 5G and 6G networks at a far lower cost and much quicker than the current manufacturing techniques. The design could also be used to produce antennas on a much larger scale and therefore have the capability to cover more areas and bring the fastest mobile networks to parts of the world that have not yet had access.”

Eddie Ball, from the Communications Research Group at the University of Sheffield

The antenna was subjected to radio frequency testing at the University of Sheffield’s industry-leading UKRI National mmWave Measurement Lab. The mmWave measurement facility can measure systems on chip and antennas up to 110GHz, which is crucial for communications research, such as the 3D-printed antenna.

Source: University of Sheffield

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