Radio-Frequency Fields Group

The Radio-Frequency Fields Group conducts theoretical and experimental research necessary for the accurate measurement of free-space electromagnetic field quantities; for the characterization of antennas, probes and antenna systems; for the development of effective methods for electromagnetic compatibility assessment; for the measurement of radar cross section and radiated noise; and for providing measurement services for essential parameters.

NIST CTL’s RF Fields Group measures, characterizes, and calibrates antennas and radiated fields of the type used in many high-performance communication, aerospace, satellite and wireless systems. This free space metrology capability compliments other groups in the Division focused on guided waves, such as the High-Speed Measurements and RF Electronics groups.

The RF Fields Group has a long heritage in advancing the understanding of radiofrequency behavior, with roots harking back to the Central Radio Propagation Laboratory, founded in 1946 and moved to Colorado with the creation of the Boulder Laboratories in 1954. Our work has helped shape the development of everything from cellular base stations to military radar to NASA’s Deep Space Network. Now, our major focus is on developing new ways to characterize very-high-speed next-generation 5G wireless and spectrum-sharing systems and the environments they operate in.

Our team faces new challenges as new spectrum bands in the tens and even hundreds of gigahertz open up, as new types of modulation come into play (such as the spatial modulation with massive MIMO), and as spectrum sharing proliferates. We’ve responded by inventing new ways to characterize, measure and test these millimeter wavelengths, enlisting industrial robots and lasers along the way.

The RF Fields Group focuses on three projects. The Antenna Metrology Project uses NIST-developed hardware, methods and algorithms to advance near-field scanning techniques to characterize antenna parameters and performance into the hundreds of gigahertz. The Field Strength Metrology Project is building a first-of-its-kind quantum-field antenna probe that uses a lasers and atoms to measure electric field strength with unprecedented accuracy. The Electromagnetic Compatibility Project applies our expertise in antenna characterization and field-strength measurement to advance the metrology of and testing for electromagnetic interference and compatibility.

Antenna Metrology Project
The Antenna Metrology Project combines theoretical models, analytical tools, and custom-developed facilities to advance the field of antenna measurement and share those advances with industry. We’re combining our state-of-the-art Antenna and Communication Metrology Laboratory (ACML), our Configurable Robotic MilliMeter-wave Antenna facility (CROMMA), and other toolsets to support the development of tests for high speed, dynamic antenna systems operating in motion and across frequencies ranging from 1 gigahertz to 1 terahertz. These systems will be vital to next-generation 5G wireless systems tasked to keep up with skyrocketing demand for wireless data.

Field Strength Metrology Project
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. This is a fundamentally new approach to radiofrequency metrology, one that promises to improve the sensitivity, precision, and ease of tests and calibrations of high-frequency field probes used for measuring radiated fields in next-generation 5G wireless systems, biomedical, and nanoelectronic systems, and environmental and other sensors.

Electromagnetic Compatibility Project
The Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) Project helps ensure that wireless and electronic devices function reliably and safely – even in the increasingly chaotic electromagnetic environments the wireless revolution has engendered. Our work applies NIST’s expertise in antenna metrology and field-strength measurement to wireless interference problems. We develop the measurement science underlying EMC testing methodologies and standards for next-generation 5G wireless, spectrum sharingsmart grid, and other systems.

Quantum Field Antenna Probe Laboratory
Antenna and Communication Metrology Laboratory
Configurable Robotic MilliMeter-wave Antenna facility (CROMMA)
National Broadband Interoperability Testbed


Industry Impacts

Propagation-Channel Measurements and Hardware Verification

NIST Impacts: 5G Wireless Communications

The next generation of wireless communications technology will allow many more devices to send information much faster, making possible everything from virtual reality to driverless cars. NIST works with industry and academia to understand how those technologies behave, so next generation wireless networks can be deployed sooner and with a better user experience.

Photo of NIST scientists with the PSCR Deployable LTE Cell-on-Wheels

NIST Impacts: First Responder Communications

First responders must be able to communicate during an emergency. Too often in critical situations, communications among public safety agencies are hampered by interoperability problems. NIST’s Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program is helping technology vendors determine how they can best meet the unique needs of the public safety community.

Projects and Programs


  • Perry Wilson
    325 Broadway, MS 672.02
    Boulder, CO  80305-3328