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The resilience of 5G communications in the face of interference and intentional jamming is critical in certain situations, such as when malicious actors try to disrupt communication between U.S. military entities. George Mason University College of Engineering and Computing faculty member Kai Zeng, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the College of Engineering and Computing, is part of a multi-university research project to develop what is being called "Next G" and "Future G" to ensure those communication channels work seamlessly in the face of adversity.
5G millimeter wave (mmWave) technology uses particular frequencies for wireless communications, allowing for more capacity and speed. Like any other communication capability, however, mmWave signals can be interfered with. Zeng's research uses various techniques to ensure seamless communications.
Imagine an aircraft carrier sending a message to an airborne drone, but that signal being disrupted by an enemy aircraft in the vicinity, "jamming" that message. If the signal can be pointed in a different direction, where it can bounce off a reconfigurable intelligent surface (RIS), the signal can be re-routed around the jamming attempt. The 3D-printed, eggbox structure of the RIS – a fancy way of saying it is "an origami antenna" – allows it to generate multiple beams at wide angles, avoiding jamming. The antenna can adjust its frequency dynamically as needed.
In addition to the elaborate antenna, the research includes other attempts to thwart jamming, including using frontend technologies and digital filters, a maneuvering Zeng refers to as a "chess game." He notes that malicious actors deploy learning-based jammers that can react to efforts to evade jamming, but "we can adapt to the jammers' behavior." Checkmate.
Zeng says the research is important because the proposed technologies will significantly enhance the users' communication capability and resilience in contested and congested radio environments. They will be useful for military communication and commercial and civilian usage to greatly improve spectrum efficiency and utilization in spectrum-sharing paradigms.
This project is funded by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Research, and Engineering. It extends George Mason University's research leadership in the field of wireless communications and future G technologies. Zeng has other ongoing research in the field, including a project funded by the National Science Foundation and Department of Defense on securely operating through 5G infrastructure, named "Windtexter," which improves message encryption and covert communication.