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Terahertz Wireless Link Could Go Beyond 6G


Jan 6, 2023 #Link, #Terahertz, #Wireless

For years, the idea of 6G was thought to be science fiction. Now, it’s closer than ever before, but Josep Jornet, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern, says there’s still room for improvement.

Together with NASA, the U.S. Air Force and Amazon, Jornet proved for the first time that high-speed, high-bandwidth wireless communication at the terahertz frequency is possible across long distances. The research, recently published in Nature Electronics, shows that there is a path forward for mass wireless communication, one that could shrink the digital divide felt by rural communities outside high-speed optical fiber networks.

“You need to find a technology that can give you optical-like connectivity without the optical problems, and we think that terahertz technology is that,” Jornet says.

The terahertz band is a set of frequencies above 100 gigahertz, pushing past 5G’s 71 gigahertz limit. The rollout of 6G wireless will bring this level of service to the public, but although sending signals across the terahertz band has been proven, doing so at a great distance has been all but impossible. The higher the frequency is, the shorter the distance information can travel. For terahertz communications, that would amount to a one-foot communication, Jornet says.

But Jornet has a habit of making the impossible possible.

“My research is driven by showing people that things they believe will not work can work,” he says.

headshot of josep jornet
Josep Jornet. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Jornet and his team were able to form a 2-kilometer link, the longest terahertz connection ever established on Earth. It wasn’t without challenges, though. For starters, a terahertz frequency radio isn’t something Jornet could just find on Amazon, which is why he turned to NASA in the first place. 

For years, NASA has been toying with terahertz wireless systems to sense signals in space, but the organization’s efforts have been focused solely on receiving signals. When it comes to sending a signal, things get tricky.

Traditionally, a communication radio has a signal generator, a mixer, which adds the information to the signal, and an antenna that converts the signal into something that can be sent out over the airwaves. The problem is that terahertz frequencies are so high and require so much power to reach that any mixer placed in the radio would break. So, Jornet came up with an elegant solution.

“We don’t have a mixer that can handle this much power–fine, let’s not have a mixer,” he says. 

Instead of putting the mixer after the signal source, Jornet and his team fed information straight into the source itself. However, doing so distorted the information to the point where it was a mangled mess. Another problem required another creative solution.

“Instead of trying to fix the information at the receiver, let me pre-distort my signal,” he says. “I’m going to make the signal ugly, such that when it goes through the source, it becomes beautiful.”


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