Research Note

August 2022 How ZTE’s RIS fixes millimeter waves’ flimsy propagation

August 2022

Abstract

LightCounting publishes its perspective on a novel technique developed by ZTE to augment millimeter wave base stations’ coverage and capacity.

Applying the law of refraction known as Generalized Snell’s Law to meta-materials, ZTE has developed a Reconfigurable Intelligent metaSurface (RIS) that can redirect a millimeter wave beam to circumvent obstacles, and hence guarantee its path such that the performance of the connected user equipment (UE) remains unaffected. Simply put, the surface of the meta-material acts as a reflector so that the RIS enables a precise beamforming of the reflected beams to follow the connected UE.

As we all know in the mobile industry, millimeter waves, defined as electromagnetic (EM) waves with a frequency ranging between 30 and 300 GHz, are hard to tame due to their insubstantial propagation characteristics such as path loss, diffraction and blockage, rain attenuation, atmospheric absorption, and foliage loss patterns. However, as they provide huge swaths of capacity, millimeter waves became a key component of 5G spectrum allocations and have been widely adopted in fixed wireless access (FWA) services in North America and are getting traction in other countries. Indeed, according to the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), as of the end of June 2022, 218 mobile operators in 87 countries/territories have launched commercial 3GPP-compatible 5G services (mobile or FWA), including 83 FWA services. Despite the abundance of commercially available repeaters and boosters for millimeter-based services, ZTE’s new RIS brings much needed relief allowing user equipment to unleash the untapped millimeter wave spectrum’s potential, and perhaps unleash mid-band bandwidth as well. Let’s start our analysis with the toughest and yet the largest capacity supplier: millimeter waves.

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