With the approach of 5G technology, cell towers are looking for new ways to adapt. UMass Amherst doctoral student Chris Merola shared some of his ideas with WBUR(FM). Merola’s lab is set up to test Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) technology on a grand scale. The thought is that splitting transmissions into an array of focused beams rather than an amorphous burst would make better use of millimeter waves.
“If you have more bandwidth, you can push more data through it,” Merola explained. “Everyone can stream their videos, or do whatever we will be doing in 10 or 20 years, with our phones or devices or immersive virtual realities.” The problem with using millimeter waves is that the high frequency that is an asset in many ways can be easily blocked.
Combining a multiple beam approach with millimeter wave transmissions would direct the data to travel around obstructions. “In some cases, they can actually bounce the beam off other objects,” TIRIAS Research analyst Jim McGregor told WBUR. “So bouncing it off a building, bouncing it off a window, off a wall, so that you can still use the millimeter wave, even if it’s partially blocked.”
Although millimeter waves have long been been used in defense applications, they represent new territory for telecoms. Chris Merola’s multiple beam designs could expand available bandwidth and lead the way for 5G cell tower arrays. “Eventually, the millimeter wave will start to fill in,” he said. “In my opinion, the exponential growth is more than five years out. It’s coming, but it’s a little ways.”