Researchers Aim to Turn 6G Blockages Into a Live Environment Map, to Reroute Signals Accordingly

A $1 million grant is going towards work in turning terahertz signal blockages into a live environmental map to improve performance.

Gareth Halfacree
18 days agoCommunication / Sensors

Engineers at Virginia Tech and the University of Oulu are launching a program, backed by a $1 million grant, to see how next-generation 6G cellular radio could be used not only to communicate but also to map and visualize the environment — giving future smartphones even more insight into the world around them.

"In 6G, we talk about high-frequency bands like terahertz," explains Walid Saad, professor at Virginia Tech's College of Engineering, of the project. "These high frequencies can deliver high rates and high bandwidth, but the problem is that the signals are susceptible to blockages — much more so than low frequencies. Those frequencies can be blocked by things like your arms moving, or someone standing in a room with you."

For communication, that's a problem: nobody wants their call to drop or their download to pause because someone waved for a cab as they walked down the street. Saad and colleague Harpreet Dhillon, though, see something else: the potential for blockages and interference to be used as sensor inputs, translating to a map of the environment that could be used to redirect signals for better reception.

"If a communication system fails because the signal is blocked, at sub-THz bands, we can still use that information to sense the environment and know that there was an obstacle in the first place," Saad explains. "Then, with both situational awareness and other side information — like a picture of the room — we can use that multimodal data to communicate better."

"Mobile wireless devices have gradually transformed from mere communications devices into powerful computing platforms with a multitude of sensors, such as cameras and radars," adds Dhillon, associate director of Wireless@VT. "In fact, when we shop for a new phone, the main considerations are its camera quality, processing speed, memory, and sensors, whereas hardly anyone checks its frequency bands. Since this is one of the first efforts to do a comprehensive analysis of vision-guided wireless systems, this is expected to have a significant impact on future generations of wireless."

"This proposal explores a very important and timely problem, which is how to leverage and fuse multiple pieces of information, such as images, to better optimize wireless resources and network deployments," concludes Mehdi Bennis, University of Oulu researcher and the third member of the project team. "If successful, this will help reduce some of the network operational and deployment costs for both vendors and consumers."

The team's work will be supported by a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), though at the time of writing a timescale for publication had not yet been provided.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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