Could A 5G-Based Wireless Power Grid Ever Be Possible?

If you’ve ever owned a Tile Tracker – a device that keeps tabs on whatever je ne sais quoi you’re prone to losing – you’re familiar with IoT devices.

Just like other IoT devices, they require a power source. It’s not that realistic to charge it on your wall outlet, and constantly switching batteries is a waste of time while also leaving a higher carbon footprint.

But what if you can charge those devices from low-power energy that’s already around you? Some geniuses at Georgia Tech have envisioned a kind of “5G-based wireless power grid” which harvests electromagnetic energy, which 5G base stations naturally emit.

Just like 3G and 4G towers, 5G stations radiate electromagnetic energy. Currently, we’re only harnessing this energy for high-speed data transfer.

That’s why Manos Tentzeris Ph. D, team leader of the ATHENA research group, believes that it’s possible to turn 5G waves into a form of wireless power. He and his team have modified a Rotman lens to make energy collection of 5G waves possible.

If proven successful, this relatively small device can make use of wireless power grids to charge up far more devices than your usual Tile tracker. Cellular providers could start beaming out electricity to power all kinds of small electronics and IoT devices. If so, that’s a wrap-up for batteries!

However, real-world implementations of all of these techs are an ambitious project. That could mean having wireless sensors everywhere.

How Does A 5G Wireless Power Grid Generate Power?

Wireless Power Grid In The Future
The Electromagnetic Spectrum

First of all, 5G is also energy. It can seem like a black box for those who aren’t engineers, but the premise hinges on something easily understood – electromagnetic energy. Consider the visible light in the spectrum above, which exists along the larger electromagnetic spectrum. You can see the visible spectrum just between infrared and ultraviolet light, or between 700 and 400 nm. As energy furthers along the electromagnetic spectrum, the wavelengths become shorter. For instance, gamma rays are far more powerful and densely packed than FM radio waves. Additionally, you can’t see these waves of energy.

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5G also operates at a higher frequency than its predecessor, which is somewhere between 24 and 90 GHz. That means 5G waves are more powerful but shorter. This is why new infrastructure is required for deploying 5G since it’s more prone to interference to objects like tall buildings, snow, and even droplets of rain.

But don’t think a city full of 5G base stations is wasteful. 3G and 4G are known for emitting power from all directions, beaming high amounts of untapped energy. 5G base stations are much more efficient because they operate at high frequencies, meaning they’re better able to focalize power, so that’s less waste at best.

There’s a drawback, though. 5G base stations transmit energy in one direction instead of emanating a circle of energy from a tower. How could your device snatch up the energy coming from all of these base stations, when you can’t see the direction in which the waves are traveling?

Making The 5G Wireless Power Grid Possible

wireless power grid Towers

That’s when the Rotman lens comes in. This technology makes energy-harvesting through 5G possible. You can see this technology in military applications, such as stationary radar systems. According to a research paper this lens isn’t the one you see inside a microscope. This spider-eye-like lens works the same as the lens of your camera, which collects light waves from all directions in order to create an image.

The Rotman lens increases the energy-collecting device’s FOV limit from the usual “pencil beam” of 20° to more than 120° which makes collecting energy waves in the 28Ghz band a lot easier. So even if you slapped the device onto a flying drone, it could still work all over the city.

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Leveraging The 5G Network To Wirelessly Power IoT Devices

Tentzeris says that he and his team are looking for partners for funding and eager to work with telecom companies. This is vital because these companies could provide and integrate rectenna stickers to augment the 5G networks they’re developing. The end result could introduce a new age of cellular phone plans.

To date, rectenna stickers can’t collect huge amounts of power – just about 6 µW of electricity from 180 meters away. But in controlled lab tests, the devices were able to gather 21 times more energy than those currently in development.

There’s also the perk of being cost-effective. Tentzeris added that producing a single unit through additive manufacturing would only cost a few cents. Therefore, it’s even possible to “integrate” these stickers with apparel and other wearables.

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