2024 Outlook: Exploring the Potential of Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces (RIS)

As the launch date for 6G Communications approaches in 2030, RIS (Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces) will not be an afterthought – it will be essential. This year (2023) has seen considerable progress and vision, with the paper, “Terahertz Communications and Sensing for 6G and Beyond: A Comprehensive View” (2023) arXiv:2307.10321v1, advising that RIS and THz (Terahertz) are the cutting-edge enablers for the access domain of a futuristic communications and sensing network.

The paper also notes that RIS can be used to generate virtual channels that compensate for the propagation losses of THz waves in order to increase signal to noise ratio (SNR) and the coverage area of THz communications and sensing.

Another recent review, “Wireless Communications beyond Antennas: The Role of Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces” Eng. Proc. 2023, 32(1), 10, concluded that RIS can improve the capacity and coverage, reducing energy consumption and latency.

Dr Peter Harrop, CEO of Zhar Research, cautions that,

“For those sub-THz RIS essential to 6G because of the small ranges, most of the important development is ahead of us. There are working spectrally reflective surfaces, some even in the form of transparent layers on windows, and they will be of some assistance, but we need to strengthen the beam at least by collimation and directing it where it is required in real time. That means semi-passive metasurfaces truly reconfigurable electronically. Experimental demonstrations of these are mainly at mere GHz frequencies and that is a start. However, if 6G Communications ends up mainly at these frequencies its whole rationale is blown.”

In order to ensure viability, focus in 2024 must be on integration of RIS into existing infrastructure, including inner and outer walls, windows and ceilings. The cost of RIS will not lie in the hardware but in the space rental, installation and maintenance, so designs that minimise these need to be proven in 2024.

The big picture must embrace 2024-2044 in order to include investor bait such as widely deployed active RIS enabling unpowered client devices. To that end, Zhar Research has released the report, “6G Communications Reconfigurable Intelligent Surface Materials and Hardware Markets 2024-2044”, which analyses the evolving 6G RIS needs, the limitations of the physics and manufacturing technology and the experiments and intentions.

As the launch date for 6G Communications approaches, RIS is being recognised as essential to the success of the technology. This year has seen considerable progress and vision in the field with multiple reviews and papers offering insight into how it can be used to improve the capacity and coverage, reduce energy consumption and latency. In order to ensure viability, research must focus on integration of RIS into existing infrastructure and designs that minimise cost and installation in 2024. Zhar Research has released a report on 6G RIS needs, limitations and experiments to inform the big picture.

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