BT uses ‘excited atoms’ to supercharge 5G

Telecommunication connections above smart city. Futuristic cityscape concept for internet of things (IoT), fintech, blockchain, 5G LTE network, wifi hotspot access, cyber security, digital technology

Captain’s Log, star date 18/05/22: UK telecoms group BT is trialling cutting edge quantum receiver technology, which it thinks could open up future 5G and IoT applications.

BT is trialling a new hyper-sensitive quantum antennas using ‘excited atomic states’. It might sound like leftover Star Trek dialogue, but atomic radio frequency technology is apparently very much of the present and thanks to it having around 100 times the sensitivity of traditional receivers, could boost the capability of next generation 5G and IoT networks, reckons BT.

Basically the technology can detect radio waves with much weaker signals by using a quantum effect called ‘electromagnetically induced transparency’ to form a highly sensitive electric field detector. The technology has already been used to receive ‘simple audio’ on much higher frequencies, however BT says the landmark represented by this trial is that it’s the first time a digitally encoded message has been received on a 5G carrier frequency.

‘In English, Data…’

As atomic RF receivers are more sensitive, they can be positioned in passive optical receivers in hard-to-reach locations potentially allowing networks to get closer to achieving 100% coverage, claims BT. Another apparent benefit is this new type of receiver may reduce mobile network energy consumption, make IoT devices cheaper and longer lasting, and support lower-cost smart cities and smart agriculture.

‘Very well, how long until you can have it ready Mr La Forge?’

BT stipulates that the technology is still in the very early stages, but that it has the potential to provide tuneable operation from very low frequencies, detection of analogue and digital modulation, and low energy consumption since there is apparently less need for electronics. In the future, the firm says it could form the basis of ‘ultra-sensitive 5G receivers’ for use in very low power passive mobile networks.

‘Captain, we are being hailed.’

“BT’s investment in cutting edge R&D plays a central role in ensuring the UK remains a network technology leader,” said Howard Watson, CTO of BT. “Our programme has huge potential to boost the performance of our next generation EE network and deliver an even better service to our customers. Although it’s early days for the technology, we’re proud to be playing an instrumental role in developing cutting edge science.”

BT claims to be the first company to use the technology in this way, and researchers at its lab in Martlesham are apparently working on miniaturising the equipment and finding the ‘optimum RF modulation and signal processing’ for potential future applications.


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