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4G? Pah! Boffins charge up the dial to 5G data EXTREME-band kit

The wide open bands where a man can breathe free

A project headed by New York University has scored $2m to fund research into 80GHz radio, as a potential home for 5G in the spectrum land rush up the dial.

$800,000 is coming from the US National Science Foundation, the rest from commercial companies and from NY State as represented by Empire State Development. The money will be spent trying to get 80GHz signals working over useful ranges and around obstacles with the avowed intention of making the space usable for 5G telephony.

These bands is well above what one would normally consider valuable spectrum: the really good frequencies are below 1GHz which is why they're all full of radio and TV transmissions. Working further up the dial needs new skills, and new research, with very few people understanding just how signals propagate in the "Extremely High Frequency" bands.

Back when radio started the first frequencies used were around 2MHz, so anything below .3MHz is known as Low Frequency, while anything above 3MHz is "High Frequency". When FM radio came along it needed more space, so it sits around 88MHz in the "Very High Frequency" band which stretches to 300MHz. Television, a relatively-late arrival, got slotted in around 600MHz in the "Ultra High Frequency" which runs up to 3GHz and thus covers existing mobile phones and wi-fi connections.

Above that we have "Super High Frequency", which runs up to 30GHz to cover the second wi-fi band (802.11a, at 5GHz) and more-esoteric LTE deployments, and finally we have "Extremely High Frequency" where WiGig is already having a hard time getting itself deployed and where the new team reckons 5G could comfortably sit.

Beyond EHF is the charmingly-named-but-not-ITU-approved "Tremendously High Frequency". That runs all the way up to infrared light which has already demonstrated its networking utility.

WiGig is still having functional problems at 60GHz, not least because of the lack of engineers with experimental experience. Some radar engineers do know the band, but not well and there aren't enough of them to go around.

Given the inability of EHF signals to penetrate walls or travel more than a few meters one might imagine the applications would be limited, but walls can often be walked around by picking up reflected signals, and range increased by clever encoding and better antennas, which are the areas the New York team will be focusing on.

Radio frequencies might be limited, but the tech moves at an astounding rate. A modern wi-fi access point isn't just processing radio signals, it could well be tracking the distance and direction of every connected device, creating narrow beams of radio directed at your pocket as you walk across the office. The 2.4GHz band was given away as it was considered worthless, only to become the most-heavily used spectrum on the dial.

The far end of that dial is still very empty and it will be interesting to see what the NY researchers can fill it with. ®

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