Researchers from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering have designed, manufactured, and tested millimeter wave (mmWave) aerials with radio frequency performance that matches those produced using conventional manufacturing techniques. The 3D printed antennas have the potential to speed up the development of new 5G and 6G infrastructure, as well as help open access to the technologies for people living in remote areas, both in the UK and around the world.
The creation of antennas currently used to build telecommunication networks is typically slow and costly. According to the University of Sheffield, this is hindering innovation, delaying the development of prototypes, and making it difficult to build new infrastructure. In response to this, the researchers at the university have developed a new design that enables radio antennas to be manufactured much cheaper, and faster, using 3D printing – without compromising on performance. Using this technique, antennas can be produced in as little as a few hours, for only a few pounds, and with similar performance capabilities as antennas manufactured in the conventional way – where they usually cost hundreds of pounds to create.
The antennas use silver nanoparticles, which have excellent electrical properties for radio frequency, and have been tested at various frequencies used by 5G and 6G networks, up to 48 GHz. Their gain and time domain response – affecting the direction and strength of signal they can receive and transmit – is almost indistinguishable from those manufactured traditionally.
“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,” said Eddie Ball, from the Communications Research Group at the University of Sheffield.
Radiofrequency testing of the antenna was performed using the University of Sheffield’s industry-leading UKRI National mmWave Measurement Lab. The mmWave measurement facility can measure systems on chips and antennas to 110GHz, which is invaluable for communications research, such as that carried out on the 3D printed antenna.
The research was funded by the UK Government’s Defence and Security Accelerator and Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.