Reconfigurable Intelligent Surface-Based Networks for 6G Radios

Article By : Nitin Dahad

Research project developing technology to dynamically program and control surfaces to become 6G signal reflectors...

A three-year pan-European 6G research project aims to develop and test technology that will allow on-demand, dynamically programmable radio wave propagation through everyday surfaces like walls, ceilings, mirrors and appliances. Led by CEA-Leti along with 12 industrial and academic partners, the project, called RISE-6G, will design, prototype and test smart and energy-sustainable technological advances based on reconfigurable intelligent surfaces (RIS) that will enable programmable control and shaping of the wireless propagation environment. These surfaces may be diode-based antennas or metamaterials for coating objects in the environment, such as walls, ceilings, mirrors and appliances, and they will operate as reconfigurable reflectors or transceivers for massive access when equipped with active radio-frequency (RF) elements. The project co-ordinator, Emilio Calvanese Strinati, who is also 6G future wireless research director at CEA-Leti, said, “Our mission is to enable this disruptive new concept as a service for the wireless environment by dynamically controlling wireless communication for local, brief and energy-efficient, high-capacity communications. The system also will ensure energy efficiency, localization accuracy and privacy guarantees against eavesdroppers, while accommodating specific regulations on spectrum use and restrained electromagnetic field (EMF) emissions.” Asked about what kind of work strands might be involved and whether there was a foundation for the technology upon which this concept will be developed, Calvanese Strinati told EE Times, “CEA Leti and also some of the other partners of the RISE-6G project have already some starting technology. There are several technical challenges to solve. About the design and prototyping of RIS, Greenerwave (one of the partners) already has solutions at below 6 GHz operational frequencies. CEA Leti has solutions for reconfigurable transmitter array technologies that operates also at 26-28 GHz, 60 GHz and beyond frequencies. Those are not exactly RIS yet. But the technology we will adopt is closely related and indeed we do not start from a black slate.”
RISE-6G image
An conceptual illustration of a reconfigurable wireless propagation environment. (Image: RISE-6G)
As part of its goal to demonstrate a scalable, smart, wireless connectivity paradigm enabled by RIS, the pan-European project will address the design of key hardware building blocks and their integration in future beyond 5G/6G networks. Its objectives are to:
  • define novel network architectures and operation strategies incorporating multiple reconfigurable intelligent surfaces;
  • characterize the new system’s fundamental limits capitalizing on the proposed realistic and validated radio-wave propagation models;
  • design solutions to enable online trade between high-capacity connectivity, energy efficiency, electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure and localization accuracy based on dynamically programmable wireless propagation environments, while accommodating specific legislation and regulation requirements on spectrum use, data protection, and EMF emission;
  • prototype-benchmark proposed innovation via two complementary trials with verticals (Fiat Industry 4.0 production site and SNCF train station).
Expected to be deployed by the end of this decade, beyond 5G and 6G networks will create the basis for human-centered smart societies and vertical industries. To accomplish this, advances will be expected to support the long-term, sustainable transformation of networks into a distributed smart-connectivity infrastructure, where new terminal types, such as mirrors, signs and walls, are embedded in the environment. In addition to responding to regulations and specific user, service and location-based needs, targeted innovations include an end-to-end, connectivity-computation system with high flexibility and dynamism that accommodates continuously evolving and heterogeneous applications. Controlled energy consumption The expectation is that by dynamically controlling RIS-enabled communication environments, mobile network users will gather in optimized “ultra-capacity/gigabit areas” with controlled energy consumption and circumscribed EMF to avoid interference from unconnected devices and to minimize their impact on the people around them. “RISE-6G will lend itself to a revolutionary flow of the current network paradigm by contributing with novel technologies and strategic business plans that will have a remarkable societal impact in the near future,” Calvanese Strinati said. With a grant of €6.5 million under the European Horizon 2020 program, the project will also actively participate in standardization bodies to bring its advanced vision into the planned industrial implementation. Project partners Officially launched on Jan. 1, 2021, with a planned duration of three years, the RISE-6G project will be piloted by CEA-Leti. The consortium includes 13 partners from seven countries representing academic, research and industrial sectors: Industry: NEC Laboratories Europe GMBH (technical coordinator, network vendor), Orange and Telecom Italia (telecom operators); Greenerwave (technology provider) Academia: Chalmeers University, Aalborg University, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, University of Notthingam Research: CEA-Leti, Consorzion Nazionale Interuniversitario Italiano, Centre National de la Recherche Sceintifique Other: the French national rail society (SNCF) and Centro Ricerche Fiat (vertical industries and end users).

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