The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is looking into how obstacles, including trees and buildings, impact millimeter waves – which is a new class of signal that 5G technology will use.

According to a news release by NIST, millimeter waves can carry more information than conventional transmissions, but also “usefully occupy a portion of the broadcast spectrum that communication technologies seldom use.” This is a “major” concern in a time when broadcasters are vying for portions of spectrum.

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NIST says that researching the impact obstacles have on millimeter waves could make a difference in how next-generation devices’ ability to see new 5G antennas.

“We will be able to do new things if our machines can exchange and process information quickly and effectively,” said Nada Golmie, head of NIST’s Wireless Networks Division in the Communications Technology Laboratory. “But you need a good communication infrastructure. The idea is to connect, process data in one place and do things with it elsewhere.”

Compared to radio waves, millimeter waves crest at shorter distances apart and have very high frequencies between 30 and 300 gigahertz. This means they can carry more information and provide faster download speeds and network responses, but an “obstructing wall can be no more than an oak leaf.”

With that in mind, NIST began a study in 2019 which saw them set up measurement equipment near trees and shrubs of different sizes around the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, Md. The agency partnered with Ansys, Inc. on the study.

“Most models don’t include measurement-based information about trees,” said NIST’s David Lai, one of the scientists who conducted the study. “They might simply say that for a given tree-like shape, we should expect a certain amount of signal loss. We want to improve their models by providing accurate measurement-based propagation data.”

NIST’s tree study measures loss in decibels when focusing the millimeter-wave signals at different trees with the goal of getting these measurements into the hands of the entire wireless community.

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.