The University of Southampton

Electronics engineers pave the way for next level in global connectivity

Published: 3 September 2021
Southampton research is laying the foundation for a high capacity 6G network.

Pioneering research at the University of Southampton is developing the enabling techniques for the future of global wireless communications and the 6G network.

Professor Lajos Hanzo from the School of Electronics and Computer Science is leading a £2.5 million research programme that proposes a novel architecture for combining space-communication and terrestrial networks. This vision would exploit the world's civilian airliners to breaking existing technological bottlenecks at high capacity with low cost.

Professor Hanzo, Head of Next-Generation Wireless, says: "The civil airliner network covers a large area of the global land and sea surface and has sufficient plane density to form a major contributor of a dynamic airborne network.

"The proposed integration of spaceborne and airborne networks, along with ground-based networks, is capable of improving the global communication coverage which is the main objective of 6G networks."

State-of-the-art 5G wireless systems are still ground-based, so they have the same coverage limitations as other terrestrial networks. Creating this space air-ground integrated network (SAGIN) would be critically important for so-called 'vertical' industries such as logistics, mining, agriculture, fisheries and defence.

As seen at FlightAware's home page, which is the world's largest flight-tracking data provider, there is a huge number of passenger planes in the sky at any given time. These planes cover most of the land and sea globally, and hence can provide networking services supported by the SAGIN with almost global coverage both day and night. They can also supplement the expensive, yet low-rate satellite links supporting the shipping industry.

To provide more reliable service, a limited number of dedicated aerial nodes such as tethered airships and so-called high-altitude platforms could also be deployed to supplement the scheduled airliners.

Rural and remote areas have been missing out on the wealth-creation benefits of broadband for many years, due to the lack of connectivity. The main obstacle for rural broadband deployment has been the high cost of ground-based infrastructure.

The proposed SAGIN concept is capable of supporting smart mining, farming and precision-agriculture in gradually eliminating the coverage hole in global connectivity.

For supply-chain tracking and shipping applications, low-cost global connectivity would enable detailed tracking of containers at sea and livestock in remote rural areas, closely monitoring their shipping and roaming conditions respectively.

The QuantCom research project is funded by an Advanced Fellow Grant from the European Research Council.

Read the full story in the latest edition of Re:action, the university's research and enterprise magazine.

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