The October 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

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Amid all the talk about Facebook's IPO, it's important to remember the reason the company might be worth US $100 billion—the hundreds of millions of us who look at it every day.

I like Facebook. It’s part of my morning routine; I read the front pages of the local papers and the first section of the New York Times, including the editorials. Then I check Facebook, because if I missed any important news or thought-provoking story, it's likely been shared by a Facebook friend who got up earlier than I did.

I also hate Facebook. I hate the constant tweaking that disrupts my routine; I’m used to looking in one spot for something, next day it’s not there. I think I’m seeing recent updates, but all of a sudden I’m not. And don’t get me started on Timeline.

But what really drives me crazy is the tendency of things that I really really don’t want in my news feed, that I’ve zapped into oblivion, supposedly permanently, to keep popping back up again. And then I have to click a button, or a click a couple of buttons, to send them back into oblivion. Things like game updates. I thought I managed to hide all game updates, but this week, it seems, they’re back, and I have to whack them back down one at a time. (People, you’re playing too many games!)

Worse, I think Facebook is testing local ads, because in my news feed I’m getting updates from local businesses I never liked, subscribed to, or friended.  I’m sure of that; I went to one of the offenders' Facebook pages and, indeed, I don’t “like” that business. Well, it’s not that I don’t really like it, I don’t get there often, but once in a while I buy something, it’s just that I don’t like like it, that is, Facebook like it, that is… Oh, never mind.

The point is, these "updates" are not flagged as ads, which is extremely annoying. Anyway, I’m whacking them down as fast as I can (reporting them as spam), in case the powers that be over at Facebook want to know how I'm feeling about news about sausage on sale (I kid you not) being slipped into my feed (no pun intended). Please let's just let ads be ads. (And indeed, the next day an update from the same business showed up on the left as a sponsored post.)

This is not what I’m looking for in my morning routine—read the papers, yes; check pointers to interesting articles on Facebook, yes; exercise my right to ignore clearly marked ads, yes; play a little Whack-A-Mole—NO! 

Photo credit: Jencu

Follow me on Twitter @TeklaPerry.

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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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