Researchers test smart surfaces to improve wireless communication and localization

UBCO researchers are testing reconfigurable intelligent surfaces—smart surfaces—that can serve as reflectors to improve cell service with existing wireless networks.

This article was originally published on UBC Okanagan News.

It’s happened to anyone with a cell phone—dropped calls or dead air because suddenly there is no service available. Or worse, the location pin drops on the navigation app.

Researchers at UBC Okanagan are looking at ways to improve cell phone connectivity and localization abilities by examining “smart” surfaces that can bounce signals from a tower to customers to improve the link. A smart surface involves installing reflective elements on windows or panels on buildings in dense urban environments.

The goal, said Dr. Anas Chaaban, is to improve wireless services for millions of Canadians. Currently, he said, there are more than 12,000 wireless antenna towers. And yet, a lack of cell service is a common problem.

“The increasing use of mobile technologies across the world is necessitating research that unlocks potential new approaches within our existing infrastructure,” said Dr. Chaaban, an Assistant Professor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering. “Even though cellphone towers line the rooftops of major cities, and handle the data and phone traffic of millions of Canadians each day, there are still gaps in service.”

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