The US Air Force and the US Department of Defense recently funded research into the possible use of 5G as radar-like surveillance equipment.
5G is the latest iteration of the cellular network. The technology, which makes use of much higher frequencies, can transmit data significantly faster than the previous version, as high as 4Gb/s. The high frequency of the very high-speed mmWave 5G means that it doesn’t take much for the signal to be blocked, and cell towers need to be installed at a higher density.
This high density of cell sites is perhaps part of what makes the technology appealing to the military as possible surveillance.
Associate professors Yu Chen and Xiaohua Li at Binghamton Universities Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science received grants for their research. A $297k grant from the Air Force’s Office of Scientific Research’s Dynamic Data and Information Processing program funded the project, while a $295k grant from the DOD’s Defense University Research Instrumentation Program funds the purchase of the necessary equipment.
Radar works by transmitting radio waves and then measuring how they bounce back. How long it takes for the radio waves to return is relative to the distance of the object from which the waves bounce. Using direction waves in a narrow beam, and spinning the antenna, allows the direction of objects 360 degrees around the object to be determined. Radar has the advantage of not being limited by ambient light and working over long distances, so it can be used as a sort of vision at night or in other situations with limited visibility, such as heavy fog or smoke.
Radar uses a wide variety of frequencies, depending on the application, from as low as 400MHz to 36GHz, so it’s not as though the mmWave frequencies of 28GHz and 39Ghz are a dramatic departure from what’s already been used.
The use of a 5G network as what the researchers refer to as a “mmWave camera” will allow the devices to operate similarly to an infrared camera, seeing through fog as they facilitate high-speed communication.
This is only early research right now, so now how successful this research will be and whether it will end up being implemented all remains to be seen.
If successful, the system could eventually see use beyond military applications:
Eventual civilian uses could include anything from home healthcare to commercial security systems.
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