3D Printing

3D-printed antennas could bring 5G and 6G to remote communities

18th January 2023
Sheryl Miles

Researchers from the University of Sheffield have developed 3D-printed radio antennas in a bid to bring stronger mobile phone signals and faster internet connections to people living in remote areas.

The research team from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering designed the millimetre wave (mmWave) aerials to perform at the same level as those produced using traditional manufacturing techniques.

The antennas used to build telecommunication networks the more conventional way can be time-consuming and costly, however, by 3D printing them it could not only speed-up the development of building new 5G and 6G infrastructure, which in turn will allow people living in remote areas worldwide access to the technology, but it is also cheaper.

By utilising 3D printing technology, the researchers are able to innovate and produce prototypes at a faster rate and at cheaper costs, thus allowing a quicker time to market. Indeed, the design has been developed to enable the antennas to be produced within a few hours and for only a few pounds compared to traditional methods – which could see the cost spilling into hundreds of pounds. Not only does it deliver quickly and cheaply, it also doesn’t compromise on performance.

Owing to their electrical properties for radio frequency, the antennas use silver nanoparticles which have been tested at various frequencies used by 5G and 6G networks, up to 48GHz. Their gain and time domain response – which affects the direction and strength of signal they can send and receive - is practically identical from those manufactured traditionally.

Eddie Ball, from the Communications Research Group at the University of Sheffield, said: “This 3D-printed design could be a game changer for the telecommunications industry. It enables us to prototype and produce antennas for 5G and 6G networks at a far lower cost and much quicker than the current manufacturing techniques. The design could also be used to produce antennas on a much larger scale and therefore have the capability to cover more areas and bring the fastest mobile networks to parts of the world that have not yet had access.”

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