CityU 4G project sure to be a crowd pleaser

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 December, 2010, 12:00am

A sudden surge of phone users in crowded spots at festive times sometimes overwhelms communications networks, preventing fun-seekers from sending greetings and dampening their party mood.

That will change if City University engineers succeed in developing a set of 4G technologies that bring revolutionary changes to data transmission and wireless communications.

CityU's department of electronic engineering has recently won a HK$13 million research grant from the University Grants Committee for the project.

It is a rare feat for the city's fourth-biggest university as research funding is usually dominated by research-oriented institutions such as the University of Science and Technology.

Chair Professor Chan Chi-hou, the project co-ordinator, said their smart 4G antenna with a wide bandwidth spanned a much wider frequency spectrum than current 3G technology.

'Technologies like Wi-Fi, 2G and 3G are situated at different points of the frequency spectrum,' he said.

'Current antenna can at most carry two systems including 2G and 3G. Internet and phone operators have to rent extensive space on rooftops to set up their various antennas for all kinds of systems.

'If one smart antenna alone can carry all the systems, installation and rental costs would be pushed down a lot.'

The laboratory at CityU that was appointed a key state laboratory by the central government in 2008 has long enjoyed renown in the field of electronic communications.

It developed the mobile terminal for the navigation satellite system that helped rescue victims in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake when communications systems were destroyed, cutting the disaster zones off from the outside world.

Smart antenna inventor Professor Luk Kwai-man obtained the US patent for it earlier this year.

The team, led by Chan, is studying how to apply the invention to daily and commercial use.

One problem they say it can solve is the clutter of different antennas and their base stations on rooftops and other vantage points.

Luk said that due to the release of back radiation, the different pieces of equipment could interfere with each other's transmissions and render communications unstable.

'The smart antenna could be made very stable by reducing the release of back radiation,' he said.

They also aim to overhaul and shrink the base station connected to the antenna, some of which are as big as refrigerators.

Senior engineer Steve Wong Hang said they aimed to shrink the base station to a size no bigger than a grain of rice. 'All the radio frequency circuits, cables, which are made of copper, and all other systems inside a base station will be converted into a microchip,' he said.

Wong said the team was also adding more smart functions to the 4G antenna.

They planned to equip it with a tracking ability that can detect user volume in various districts and readjust coverage to cope with the sudden surge in user volume in a crowded site.

'Now, there's no difference in coverage between a remote rural site with nary a human soul and Tsim Sha Tsui at Christmas time,' he said.

'The distribution of resources is equal now. But the new antenna, with tracking ability, could do the redistribution and make sure that everyone in crowded areas during Christmas could get their message through to their loved ones.'