RF Technology Division
Who we are
NIST CTL’s Radio Frequency (RF) Technology Division develops theory, metrology and standards for the technologies upon which the future of wireless communications depends. Our work spans on-chip measurements of the transistors that generate wireless signals, the testing of free-field signals and the antennas that send and receive them, and the characterization of the integrated circuits that receive and process signals.
We tackle fundamental radio frequency (RF) measurement problems applicable to a wide array of industry and government players. The RF Technology Division’s five groups focus on CTL’s three major programs: Spectrum Sharing, Next-Generation 5G Wireless, and Public Safety Communications Research.
Many of our efforts address two of the wireless industry’s biggest challenges, both driven by the spectrum crunch. First is the increasing speed of wireless hardware needed to open up millimeter-wave bands. These systems, operating into the terahertz range, are faster than the systems once relied upon to test them.
The second challenge is that wireless systems of all sorts must operate in increasingly crowded, complex RF environments. In part, this is a function of inexorable wireless demand growth. But there are also concerted efforts – in particular with spectrum sharing – to squeeze more users into the same spectrum bands.
For decades, we have been developing new theories, new algorithms, new software, and new hardware to advance the metrological state-of-the-art for the U.S. wireless industry. We continue to invent new ways to accomplish this mission, including the world’s first robotic-arm antenna testing system, our electro-optic sampling system for on-chip metrology, our quantum field probe for antenna testing, and the new NIST Broadband Interoperability Test Bed (NBIT), among others. As our longstanding collaborations with the wireless industry identify new focus areas for our unique capabilities, this list will continue to grow.
The RF Technology Division’s Groups
Our work happens through the efforts of five groups: High-Speed Measurements, RF Electronics, RF Fields, Metrology for Wireless Systems, and Shared Spectrum Metrology.
High-Speed Measurements Group
The High-Speed Measurements Group develops fundamental performance measurements for the high-speed semiconductors at the heart of modern communications equipment. This work helps establish metrology and standards and for the ultrafast circuits needed for the wireless networks of the future. The group’s High-Speed Electronics Project develops ways to characterize high-speed transistors. The Waveform Metrology Project determines the quality of the communications – as manifest in waveforms – that high-speed communications systems built on ultrafast and high-power transistors bring to bear.
RF Electronics Group
The RF Electronics Group develops fundamental metrology and standards to help industry build better wireless systems through a deeper understanding of how electromagnetic waves interact with materials and components. This work establishes precise scientific foundations upon which industry can more quickly develop new materials for front-end filters (which capture a slice spectrum for digital conversion), components capable of harnessing – rather than suffering from – nonlinear transistor behavior, and for components that avoid or suppress thermal and other noise that can degrade transmitters and receivers.
RF Fields Group
The RF Fields Group measures, characterizes and calibrates modulated wireless signals as radiated electromagnetic waves in free space. The group focuses on three projects. The Antenna Metrology Project uses NIST-developed hardware, methods and algorithms to advance near-field scanning techniques to characterize frequencies into the hundreds of gigahertz. The Field Strength Metrology Project is building a first-of-its-kind quantum-field antenna probe that uses lasers and atoms to measure antenna field strength with unprecedented accuracy. The Electromagnetic Compatibility Project applies NIST expertise in antenna characterization and field-strength measurement to advance the metrology of and test for electromagnetic interference and compatibility.
Metrology for Wireless Systems Group
The Metrology for Wireless Systems Group’s expertise in wireless measurement techniques and test methods spans conducted as well as free-field modulated system measurements. This work informs CTL’s Next-Generation 5G Wireless program, with a special focus on millimeter-wave communications and massive MIMO. The group also co-leads the 5G mmWave Channel Model Alliance, a nexus for global efforts to define the future radio channels through which next-generation 5G wireless will operate.
Shared Spectrum Metrology Group
The Shared Spectrum Metrology Group develops metrology underlying spectrum sharing. The group is a key technical resource for the National Advanced Spectrum and Communications Test Network (NASCTN), and the group’s basic research in tiered-access spectrum sharing as well as coexistence promises to improve the robustness, performance and reliability of future wireless systems used in medical settings such as operating rooms, manufacturing facilities, stadiums, public-safety settings, utilities, and elsewhere. The NIST Broadband Interoperability Testbed (NBIT), which Shared Spectrum Metrology Group leads, is a key asset for both coexistence as well as tiered-access spectrum sharing work.