Haiti Earthquake: One Year Later (Part 1)

How Inveneo is pushing telecom's recovery

4 min read

9 March 2011—A year ago, IEEE Spectrum published articles and blogs about what nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were doing to restore the telecommunications infrastructure in Haiti, such as it was, after the 12 January 2010 earthquake and the dozens of aftershocks that wreaked havoc on the tiny island nation. At that time, Spectrum got a glimpse into the conditions on the ground there through the eyes of Mark Summer, cofounder and chief innovation officer at Inveneo, a San Francisco–based nonprofit whose mission is to get communications technology to people in developing nations in order to hasten disaster relief, provide economic opportunities, and reduce child mortality.

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, Inveneo helped to reestablish communications in the Port-au-Prince area for NGOs responding to the disaster. But a year later, the focus has shifted: Summer and his colleagues realized that there was also a huge need for telecommunications in the rural areas outside Port-au-Prince. While there is cellphone coverage in those areas, broadband Internet access is pretty much nonexistent for most of the roughly 7 million people (out of a total population of 10 million) who live outside of the capital city area.

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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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