U of Waterloo funded to expand Internet access
Stephen LawElectronics Wireless Engineering Supply Chain antennas
Research at the University of Waterloo that has the potential to affordably connect billions of new users to the Internet via intelligent antennas will receive $6.1 million in joint funding from C-COM Satellite Systems Inc. and the federal government.
C-COM and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) will each provide funding of $3,055,000 over five years. C-COM will also provide $751,000 of in-kind support to the project, which Professor Safieddin Safavi-Naeini, from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Waterloo will lead. Safavi-Naeini is the head of the Centre for Intelligent Antenna and Radio Systems (CIARS) at Waterloo.
Modular antennas capable of establishing links to satellites
Work at CIARS involves the development of low-cost, flat, modular antennas capable of establishing and maintaining links to satellites, even while on the move. That capability would be a breakthrough for C-COM, which presently manufactures and sells robotic antennas for fixed Internet connectivity in 103 countries around the world. The new technology would enable widespread broadband internet service in cars, trains, ships, planes and other vehicles.
“If you imagine there are billions of people out there with no connectivity, and hundreds of millions of cars, trucks, planes, boats, anything that moves, the market potential is exciting,” said Leslie Klein, an alumnus of Waterloo Engineering and co-founder of C-COM.
Antennas can connect to satellites in remote areas
Existing antennas can connect to satellites in areas as remote as the middle of the Sahara Desert, but they are relatively large and expensive, and can only be used when the vehicles they are fitted to are stationary. The next-generation antennas will lie flat, conforming to the contours of a car’s roof, for example, or be attached to buildings, and maintain fast, reliable connections by electronically directing their beams to satellites overhead. Once in mass production, the antennas could affordably service huge areas of the world that lack conventional cellular networks on the ground.
“The University of Waterloo has built a global reputation in antenna and wireless communications research,” said D. George Dixon, vice-president, university research at Waterloo. “The establishment of this industrial research chair will support the innovative work taking place at CIARS that will connect people in all corners of the world in the near future.”
Risk-based life cycle management of engineering systems
Waterloo Engineering has five industrial research chairs who collaborate with industry in a variety of areas, including energy infrastructure, information theory of optical networks, and risk-based life cycle management of engineering systems.
“Digital technologies are playing a major role in what many have referred to as the fourth industrial revolution,” said B. Mario Pinto, president of NSERC. “NSERC is proud to further drive innovation in wireless communications by supporting this research partnership in advanced satellite antenna systems. Dynamic collaborations between industry and academia are vital to transformative advances and breakthroughs in this field.”
An initial product may be on the market within two to three years. Other possible applications for the antennas include use with high-speed, 5G communications networks using millimetre wavelength radio frequencies, which are expected to become reality within about five years, and sophisticated radar imaging for sensor systems in self-driving cars.