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Millimeter-Wave Beamforming Technology

Aaron Bartnik1, Adam Weidling1, Rui Ma1


Professor Franklin1
1. Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN,
55455, USA

Abstract -- The future of mobile communications is expected to meet the consumer


demands of high data rates, efficient devices, and improved spectral efficiency. Due to the
limited availability in the electromagnetic spectrum, 5G mobile systems are predicted to
operate at frequencies in 10s of GHz. These high frequencies are appealing due to the
large amount of bandwidth present, however the use of high frequencies introduces
additional design challenges. Electromagnetic waves experience more signal attenuation at
high frequencies and are much more susceptible to blockage. To overcome the potential
pitfalls of high frequency communication, a solution is considered utilizing beamforming.
Beamforming allows data transmitters and receivers to focus their energy in specific spatial
directions helping overcome path loss and reducing wasted radiation.
Index Terms -- Mobile Communications; 5G; Phased Array; Beamforming; Butler Matrix;
Hybrid Coupler: Phase Shifter

Introduction:
Growing demands for increased mobile communication data rates have led to the consideration
of underutilized frequency bands. Due to the limited spectral availability at low frequencies,
millimeter-wave frequency bands are being brought to attention. Spectrum bands in the tens of
gigahertz have not previously been used for mobile communications due to high propagation loss
and attenuation in non-line-of-sight environments. High frequency signals have large attenuation
where particular atmospheric molecules such as O2 and H2O experience their molecular
resonance. Millimeter waves are also susceptible to blockage from buildings, humans, and
foliage deeming these frequencies as short-range. Therefore one challenge of this technology is
to increase propagation distance. Antenna arrays have been used to send narrow beams of energy
to specific spatial locations where the receivers reside, overcoming the challenge of high
propagation loss. Beamforming is an antenna design method where controlling the phase and
magnitude of the signals going to an antenna array allows the formation of directive beams via
constructive and destructive interference. This technology becomes more practical as the
frequency increases because the smaller wavelengths result in antenna arrays with a reduced
footprint. A phase controller using the Butler Matrix topology is discussed as a viable solution
for beamforming phase shifting.

5G Overview:
The rapid growth in mobile data traffic and the upcoming expansion in the Internet of Things
(IoT) has required researchers to explore underutilized areas of wireless spectrum. The upcoming
generation of mobile network technology, 5G, is currently being defined and developed. The
standardization of 5G specifications are still several years away, but its widely believed that the
5G systems are going to deliver an order of magnitude increase in cell capacities and per-user
data rate compared to 4G systems [1]. The 5G requirements proposed by Samsung mentions
seven key performance indicators (KPIs) as shown in Fig. 1 [1], and some these are highlighted
in Table I. Specially, 5G systems are expected to provide a theoretical peak data rate of more
than 50 Gbps, 50 times higher than 4G. [1]. To support cloud computing or remote machine
control, 5G networks will deliver an end-to-end latency of less than 5 milliseconds and over-theair latency of less than one millisecond, which is an order of magnitude improvement over 4G
[1]. 5G is also expected to have a spectral efficiency of 10 bps/Hz, which is more than 3 times

greater than 4G [1].


TABLE I
Requirement Comparison of 5G with 4G

System

4G

5G

1 Gbps

> 50 Gbps

End-to-end latency

50 ms

< 5 ms

Over-the-air latency

10 ms

< 1ms

1-3 bps/Hz

10 bps/Hz

Peak data rate

Spectral Efficiency

Fig. 1. 5G Rainbow Requirements [1].

To meet the demanding 5G preliminary requirements, many are considering the


underutilized higher frequency bands. As illustrated in Fig. 2(a) [2], there is spectra available
below 6 GHz and above 28 GHz (millimeter wave bands). The available spectra below 6 GHz
are limited, while the millimeter wave bands would provide a lot more bandwidth; we therefore
consider millimeter wave bands further due to their capacity to support the higher data rates
required for future mobile networks. Another advantage of the millimeter wave bands over the
bands below 6 GHz is that they can allow 5G networks to be made much more compact and
improve the cost efficiency. As shown in Fig. 2(b), current 4G cellular frequencies are in the 850
MHz to 1900 MHz range corresponding to wavelengths of 0.35 m and 0.157 m, respectively.
The millimeter wave bands have wavelengths in the 0.01 m range, and this smaller wavelength
allows cells to shrink more resulting in a denser network. Therefore, the millimeter wave may
indeed be a worthy candidate for 5G mobile networks.
However, a disadvantage of high frequency operation is that path loss and overall
attenuation is much greater than at low frequencies. Electromagnetic waves traveling in the
atmosphere are absorbed by oxygen (O2) and water vapor (H2O) [3]. The absorption is much
greater at the mechanical resonant frequencies of O2 and H2O, which are mostly distributed in
the millimeter bands. Additionally, millimeter waves are susceptible to blockage from buildings,
humans, and foliage limiting the propagation distance in both indoor and outdoor environments.

(a)

(b)

Fig. 2. (a) Snapshot of potential licensed spectrum availability [2] and (b) wavelength versus frequency plot.

Beamforming Systems:
If 5G systems are to operate at high frequencies, a method must be developed to overcome the
increased attenuation. Beamforming is a possible solution to this problem; a beamforming
system integrates an antenna array and feed network of devices including phase shifters and
power dividers. The job of the feed network is to change the power level and phase of the signal
going to each individual antenna allowing for the system to create radiation lobes as seen in Fig.
3 [4]. A beam can be radiated in any direction by changing the phase and amplitude of the signal
connected to each antenna. This method can be used in both the transmitters and receivers to
provide maximum efficiency.

Fig. 3. A scheme of a phased array for beamforming [4].

The basic operational theory behind beamforming is relatively simple. By varying the
phase reference and power levels between adjacent antennas in an array, the radiation pattern
will change by the way of constructive and destructive interference. When the same operating
frequency is used and the phase reference with respect to two adjacent antennas is changed, the
waves will superimpose on each other which will lead to the single addition or cancellation
based on the relative phase. Lobes will be created when the signals constructively interfere and
nulls will exist when they destructively interfere.

Feed Network Design:


There are many feed network designs capable of controlling the phase and power for
beamforming applications. We consider the Butler Matrix due to its frequency reuse and
improved signal to noise ratio [5]. In a Butler Matrix, signal phase and amplitude are
manipulated using 900 hybrid couplers, phase shifters consisting of 450 transmission lines, and
crossovers which are cascaded branch-line couplers [5]. A spatial Fast Fourier Transform is
performed to provide 2 orthogonal beams [5]. Based on the phase and amplitude of the input
signals the Butler Matrix will control the antennas beam and sidelobes. A simplified, size
reduced 4x4 Butler Matrix proposed shows 30% size reduction in the branch-line coupler from
the normal coupler size without any degradation in the performance, which makes it a promising
solution for the ever increasing complexity of wireless communication systems [5]. Fig. 4 shows
a block diagram and a layout of the proposed 4x4 Butler Matrix.

Fig. 4. Block diagram and layout of the proposed 4x4 Butler Matrix [5].

By feeding one port while the others are connected to a matched load, four different beams can
be created. The number of beams could be increased if the Butler Matrix size increased. Table II

shows a sample output from the block diagram in Fig. 4. Based on the incident phase on the feed
port, the reference phase at the four output ports can be found.
TABLE II
Phase shifts characteristics at the output ports of 4x4 Butler Matrix [5]

Conclusion:
Beamforming is being strongly considered as a method to overcome signal attenuation and path
loss in the high frequency bands that a future 5G data network may reside. Utilizing an antenna
array with phase and gain controllers allows constructive and destructive interference patterns
that can transmit data towards clients as opposed to radiating in all directions. A Butler Matrix
phase shifter is presented as a method to accomplish beamforming. While lab tests have proven
data communication using millimeter waves, a fully functional system is a long way off as it will
need to be robust and feasible in both indoor and outdoor environments.

References:
[1] Samsung Electronics, 5G Vision, 5G PPP commission report, February 2015.
[2] Nokia, 5G Ultra Wide band Enhanced Local Area Systems at Millimeter Wave, September
2013.
[3] T.S. Rappaport, J. Murdock, F. Gutierrez, State of the art in 60 GHz Integrated Circuits and
Systems for Wireless Communications, Proceedings of the IEEE, August 2011, Vol.99, No 8,
pp. 1390-1436.
[4] LTE Quick Reference - BeamForming, retrieved from www.sharetechnote.com.
[5] N. A. Muhammad, et al., Beam forming networks using reduced size Butler Matrix ,
Wireless Pers Commun, 63:765-784, 2012.