Ohio State research aims to increase signal strength by creating antennas that are suspended by a few small posts and are almost entirely floating. Credit: courtesy of Ohio State.

New Ohio State research into “hovering” antennas could boost cellphone signals and beam images straight to televisions.

The research team, led by Nima Ghalichechian, an assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering, aims to increase signal strength by creating antennas that are suspended by a few small posts and are almost entirely floating. The floating allows for the antenna to send a stronger signal to users instead of the base the antenna is sitting on, which is the major problem with signal strength today.

“Nowadays, we use cellphones for all sorts of wireless communication for voice and video transmission,” Ghalichechian said. “There is a need and a growth every year. Every year we need a lot more [signal strength] to send and receive more data than the previous year.”

The growth comes from increasing the bandwidth at which the data is sent, Ghalichechian said. Crowded microwave frequencies are the current standard for transferring data.

Bandwidth is the frequency at which the data or signals can be sent at. Bandwidth can be thought of like a door with many people trying to enter at once. If the size of the door is increased more people can get through at once. The same applies to bandwidth; if it is increased more data can be sent at once.

The research team has proposed moving to a wide-open millimeter-wave frequency.

“We are trying to go about 50 times higher frequency to get us 50 times higher bandwidth,” Ghalichechian said. “So, the idea is to create devices that transmit and receive data at these very high frequencies.”

Two graduate research assistants at Ohio State’s Electroscience Lab, Jiantong Li and Kyoung Ho Jeong, are working on these devices.

“We want to focus on the next generation of antennas,” Li said. “We want to make a good antenna on this new frequency to overcome limitations.”

Jeong is working on the more intricate details of the antenna, like the lensing structure.

“The antenna has to get an increase of transmitted power,” Jeong said. “My structure allows for the [signal] to be focused and gathered to increase the power of the entire antenna.”

The biggest advantage of all of this power is connectivity, Ghalichechian said. The “internet of things” is the connection of every device being connected to one another and to do this, a lot more power is needed to send large amounts of data.

“Imagine you want to get rid of the cable that connects your TV to your TV station, then you need a large transfer of data,” Ghalichechian said. “Imagine a virtual reality headset sitting on your head without all the wires connected.”

Aside from entertainment purposes, the uses include millimeter-wave, short-range communication links, satellite communications, radars, remote sensing, security and medical imaging, Ghalichechian added.

The research is in the design phase so there is plenty of work to do before the public could see the antennas in use.

“It may be 10 to 20 years,” Ghalichechian said. “But, who knows?”