The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

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CES 2013: Broadband in a Box

No frills, no contract broadband service can turn ipod touch into a “real” phone

1 min read
CES 2013: Broadband in a Box

I’ve written about my aunt before. I’d love to get her on the Internet, but she’s reluctant to sign up for a monthly service that involves installing a blinking box that requires complicated set up, troubleshooting her home phone system, or signing an expensive cellular data contract. So when I visit the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas I always keep an eye out for possible solutions.

Freedom Pop, exhibiting this week at a press event called Digital Experience, may have one. The $99 purchase price of its instant wireless network (just plug in to a power source to operate) includes 500 megabytes of data per month, to be provided by Sprint, free for life. Additional data charges can be deducted from an account at $10 per gigabyte, or heavy users can pay $60 per month for a 10-gigabyte plan.

The company sells a case for the iPod Touch for the same price, and includes software that makes it easier to call and text on the device. My teenage son, who we’ve told won’t be getting an iPhone until he can pay for the data plan himself, is interested in this one.

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Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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