Future 5G smartphones could be endowed with radar technology in order to locate the direction of nearby cell towers to boost signal.
To take full advantage of upcoming 5G networks, antennas need to be much more advanced than they are today where even the best smartphones actually lose around 90 per cent of the signal.
One solution being developed by a Danish team from Aalborg University in collaboration with tech firms Intel and Wispry is to have the antennas directed towards the transmitter.
This works in a similar fashion to satellite communications where a dish pointing straight up at a satellite can pick up a signal that is 10,000 times weaker than that picked up by a mobile phone.
"If you know what direction the signal is coming from, you have a huge advantage," says Gert Frølund Pedersen who worked on the project.
Although it may be known where the nearest transmission tower is, the challenge with smartphones is that they rarely point in the same direction for long periods of time.
The project uses technology similar to radars that scans in all directions to find the strongest signal that the mobile phone can lock on to.
By having many antennas in a phone that each look in their own direction weaker signals can be captured with significantly more power.
There are typically two antennas built into modern 4G phones and standards have already been developed for four and eight antennas. But Pedersen believes the number will increase significantly for the next generation.
"Whether 5G will have 16 or 64 antennas built in, we don’t know, but it will be of that order of magnitude. The more there are, the better. But they have to work together for a good signal in the right direction," he said. "The downside is that it costs, not only when it comes to technology, but also in terms of power consumption. And that’s something we need to look at."
Although the team has already developed ideas about how to solve the technological challenges of implementing such a system, there is still further research to be done before it can be included in a mobile phone.
The technical solution must go through a sea of different tests to simulate how the antenna works under various conditions, if it’s held in one way or another, if it’s located in a pocket or moving at different speeds.
Last month, European researchers set a new record for wireless data transmission using a 5G technology known as massive MIMO. They achieved wireless data transmission speeds of 1.59Gbit/s, a 12-fold improvement over the fastest currently available 4G cellular technology.