Drones may soon be responsible for bouncing digital data signals from senders to receivers, according to a new collection of peer-reviewed research papers on the role of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces (RISs) in advancing wireless communications.
Curated from around the world by an international editorial board, this special issue was published on April 29 in Intelligent and Converged Networks, a journal jointly published by Tsinghua University Press and the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technology.
“RIS is an emerging new physical-layer technology in the field of wireless communication,” said Linglong Dai, associate professor of electronic engineering at Tsinghua University in China and editor of the special issue. Dai is also affiliated with the Beijing National Research Center for Information Science and Technology.
In basic wireless communications, a transmitter sends a signal encoded with information along a specific frequency to a receiver, like local news to a specific radio station. The signal, however, can be blocked, interfered with or lost over distance between the start and intended end of the communication. More advanced wireless communications improve upon this by bouncing signals: a signal moves from a base transceiver — which both transmit and receive messages — to a mobile transceiver, which bounces it at a set angle toward the client, circumventing obstacles. Now, in 5G, transceivers can hold multiple antennas to transmit and receive multiple signals over multiple channels for multiple clients while minimizing interference between them.
RIS, a thin plate array of individually programmable and controllable components, personalizes the 5G efficiency and clarity, according to Dai. Each piece of the RIS can be independently adjusted to achieve the exact bounce angle as required by the signals.
“RIS promises a paradigm shift for wireless communications, where the wireless propagation environment can be dynamically controlled, which is substantially different from the conventional design that focuses only on the transmitter and receiver,” Dai said. “But, although the number of publications on RIS has sharply increased, there are still many challenging issues to be extensively investigated.”
To highlight potential solutions to barriers to advances in RIS, the researchers selected eight research papers to include.
“After a strict review process, we selected the included papers — submitted by some of the most well-known groups in this field — based on their technical relevance and merits to advance the practicality of this technology,” Dai said. “In this special issue, many hot topics on RIS technology and techniques have been well investigated, such as performance analysis and optimization, strength and security of channels, integration into current wireless systems, and an overview of the current RIS hardware and potential system prototyping.”
According to Dai, the editors intend for the special issue to provide a snapshot of the breadth and depth of ongoing RIS research.
“We hope that, through the efforts of our special issue, researchers will be inspired to continue advancing RIS technology, bringing a paradigm revolution to develop 6G wireless communications in the foreseeable future,” Dai said.
Other editors of the special issue include Chan-Byoung Chai, School of Integrated Technology, Yonsei Institute of Convergence Technology, Yonsei University, Korea; Shi Jin, National Mobile Communications Research Laboratory, Southeast University, China; Marco Di Renzo, Université Paris-Saclay, CNRS, CentraleSupélec, Laboratoire des Signaux et Systèmes; and Rui Zhang, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, National University of Singapore. Dai, Chai, Di Renzo and Zhang are fellows of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and Jin is a senior member.
The papers accepted by this special issue are listed as below:
 Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces for Wireless Communications: Overview of Hardware Designs, Channel Models, and Estimation Techniques. DOI: https://doi.org/10.23919/ICN.2022.0005. Intelligent and Converged Networks, Apr. 29. 2022.
 Aerial Intelligent Reflecting Surface for Secure Wireless Networks: Secrecy Capacity and Optimal Trajectory Strategy. DOI: https://doi.org/10.23919/ICN.2022.0020. Intelligent and Converged Networks, Apr. 29. 2022.
These papers are also available on SciOpen (https://www.sciopen.com/home) by Tsinghua University Press.
Intelligent and Converged Networks is an international specialized journal that focuses on the latest developments in communication technology. The journal is co-published by Tsinghua University Press and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technology (ICT). Intelligent and Converged Networks draws its name from the accelerating convergence of different fields of communication technology and the growing influence of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
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