BT tests quantum radio receivers that could boost 5G coverage

Quantum computing
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BT is trialling a new ‘hyper-sensitive’ quantum radio receiver that could boost the capabilities of 5G and Internet of Things (IoT) networks by reducing energy consumption and boosting coverage.

The receivers use ‘excited atoms’ to achieve 100 times greater sensitivity than conventional radio equipment thanks to a quantum effect called ‘electromagnetically induced transparency’ that forms a highly sensitive electric field detector.

Because the atomic radio frequency (RF) receivers are more sensitive, they could be deployed in areas where it’s impractical or not cost-effective to deploy mobile infrastructure. This would make nationwide 5G coverage a reality.

'Excited atoms'

Meanwhile lower energy consumption would transform the economics of massive IoT projects that rely on long battery life. 

The longer an IoT device can be left in the field without needing to be touched or replaced, the greater the return on investment.

BT’s engineers successfully sent digitally-encoded messages using the technology via EE’s 3.6GHz spectrum. The use of commercially-licensed frequencies could accelerate the timetable for the receivers to be used in the real world. Researchers are now working to miniaturise the equipment and find the optimum frequency modulation and signal processing so it can be used in the future.

“BT’s investment in cutting edge R&D plays a central role in ensuring the UK remains a network technology leader,” said Howard Watson, BT chief technology officer (CTO). “ Our programme has huge potential to boost the performance of our next generation EE network and deliver an even better service to our customers. Although it’s early days for the technology, we’re proud to be playing an instrumental role in developing cutting edge science.”

BT’s interest in quantum technology has seen it and Toshiba build the world’s first commercial quantum-secured metro network using standard fibre cables in London.

The UK government has expressed a desire to be at the forefront of the field, believing quantum computing can play a vital role in the connected economy and accelerate Industrial Internet of things (IIoT) deployments. A National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC) is expected to open in 2022 as part of the £1 billion National Quantum Technologies Programme.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.