From a distance, it’s just possible to believe that University of Waterloo engineering professor Safieddin (Ali) Safavi-Naeini, who currently occupies the NSERC/ BlackBerry Industrial Research Chair in wireless communication, has a dull, dry and theoretical job in academia.

But that assessment would likely be wrong. Safavi-Naeini is currently working on the next generation of advanced, low cost “intelligentantennas, for use initially in communications between cars, aircraft, ship and satellites, but also eventually for use in consumer goods such as cell-phones, computers and anything needing to be connected to a larger, next generation (5G and beyond) network.

And Safavi-Naeini isn’t working alone on this project. As the director of the Centre for Intelligent Antenna and Radio Systems (CIARS), he’s backed by some of the finest minds in the field.

CIARS new intelligent antenna module inventor team

Members of the new intelligent antenna module inventor team at CIARS include (from left to right) PhD student Hussam Al-Saedi, research scientist Dr. Suren Goigoyan, research scientist Dr. Wael Abdel-Wahab, PhD student Mohammad Fereidani and CIARS director, Prof Salieddin Safivi-Naeini.

CIARS Partners with C-Com Satellite Systems to Build Patented Modular Scalable Millimeter-Wave Phased Array Technology

A phased array antenna module project is a partnership with C-Com Satellite Systems Inc. an Ottawa, Ontario-based company which, as outlined in the May 4th, 2016 C-Com press release, “C-Com Reports Successful Tests Using Patented Ka-Band Phased Array Technology,” expects to use the developed technology to shake up the satellite antenna industry.

This new phased array/phase shifting technology should have a significant impact on the satellite antenna business moving forward. This development will make it possible to deploy low cost, low weight, low profile Ku, Ka or hybrid Ku/Ka-band antenna system combinations for fixed and mobile satellite broadband communication applications.

The secret of this new phased array antenna module technology is deceptively simple

According to Safavi-Naeini, the new passive antenna modules (the building blocks of the “intelligent phased array system”) can be manufactured in a variety of shapes and sizes able to conform to planar and curved surfaces, using existing 3D printers designed for the construction of low-cost circuits.

A typical phased array is composed of many radiating elements, each with its own separate phase shifter. Dr. Safavi-Naeini’s breakthrough is the development of a small and low-cost intelligent array module which includes a phase shifter, without any active costly and power consuming component, on a printed board compatible with standard circuit board technology and manufacturing techniques.

The completed array will even continue to function if some of the 3D printed phase array components are damaged – a boon for industry, and ultimately for everyone who will rely on this technology to connect their portable devices.

The system exhibits a “graceful degradation” of capacity as components are rendered inoperative instead of the catastrophic failure typical of most existing satellite antenna systems.

Best of all, the antenna radiation beam can be pointed in different directions by simply varying the voltages at each element across the intelligent array using the “patented passive phase shifter technology.”

millimeter-wave 4x4 intelligent antenna module

The new tiny millimeter-wave 4×4 intelligent antenna module

A prototype passive phased array module (designed without any active components) has been tested and validated for Ka-band electronic beam steering capability using the C-COM engineered material phase shifter technology:

Results from recent tests clearly showed that electronic beam steering of up to 30 degrees from the normal direction with minimal impact on the beam shape is possible using an extremely simple and low-cost structure consisting of the patent pending phase shifter. No active devices were required to accomplish this task and there was no need to adjust the antenna excitation amplitude.

According to Safavi-Naeini, “up until now, the only parts of our communications technology which we couldn’t control directly were the antennas which connected our individual cell phones and other wireless systems to the outside world. When the signal left the box, it always became uncontrolled and unpredictable until it was picked up by a receiver on the other end.”

passive electronic phased array radar antenna in Alaska

Traditional phased arrays have been large, complex and expensive, such as the 29 metre (95 foot) Cobra Dane passive electronic phased array radar antenna in Alaska. But new technology, developed on campuses such as Waterloo and in partnership with a variety of businesses, is rapidly expanding the potential of the original technology and making it affordable for mass market applications. Photo c/o Wikipedia.

It’s quite likely that, given the ease of manufacture, the expected modularity and its ability to conform to curved surfaces, the modular intelligent/radio antenna technology pioneered by Safivi-Naeini’s team will become a low cost mass producible building block for other next generation mobile wireless networks in the consumer, telecom and automotive industries.

The CIARS intelligent phased-array research program was funded by C-COM, the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP)   and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Program of Canada (NSERC).

And, for those of us who are keeping score, it’s worth noting that C-COM Satellite Systems Inc. president Leslie Klein is also a Waterloo engineering alumnus. As outlined in the April 26nd, 2012 University of Waterloo post on the 2012 “Waterloo Engineering Alumni Reception in Ottawa,” where he was a keynote speaker, Klein is a graduate of the electrical engineering class of 1973.

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