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Researchers look to 6G technology to help bridge the digital divide

Researchers at the University of Strathclyde in the UK and Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) in Germany have collaborated to help make telecommunications more accessible in remote and rural areas.

Professor Harald Haas, director of Strathclyde’s LiFi Research and Development Centre, has received a Humboldt Research Award for his research achievements to date, allowing him to collaborate on a topic of choice with Professor Robert Schober at FAU. The collaboration will investigate the use of point-to-point free space optical (FSO) communications to provide an effective solution to the ‘digital divide’ through 6G communications. It will also explore THz (terahertz) communications, on frequencies between 300GHz and 10THz, as well as optical wireless communications, between 10 THz and 1 PHz.

The research will additionally look at the use of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces (RIS) for all potential 6G frequency bands. RIS are electromagnetic devices with electronically controllable characteristics, which can manipulate the impact of an incoming signal.

Professor Haas said: ‘People in data-deprived areas can really fall behind in the modern world and what is really transformational about this [project] is the move away from radio spectrum to optical spectrum. We are aiming to use the optical communications spectrum in the infrared region to beam wireless data signals over hundreds of metres to tens of kilometres, using solar panels as both data receivers and energy harvesters. We have been running a trial in Orkney in which ordinary solar cells and laser transmitters have been used to quadruple the data rates of residents on Graemsay.

‘Our goal is to have affordable free-space optical communications for 6G, in a framework which enables mesh and multihop networking to get around hills and obstacles. Our system is designed to be self-powered because we use solar panels simultaneously for power and data harvesting so that it could be installed anywhere, even on trees or any other mast where there is no access to the power grid. The operational carbon footprint of these communication systems is, therefore, zero. We are also aiming to redirect signals when something, an object or an individual, is in the way and blocking the signal. We will advancing optical RIS, which is something like a smart billboard or wallpaper that reflects and concentrates light towards a LiFi receiver.’

The University of Strathclyde also recently became involved in a project alongside UK water provider, Yorkshire Water and engineering firm, Arcadis to kick-start research and development into fibre-in-water in the UK.


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