Page last updated at 07:11 GMT, Tuesday, 22 April 2008 08:11 UK

Signal boost for mobile phones

Communications satellite dish in Vietnam
Three-dimensional antennas are too big for hand-held devices

The signal strengths of laptops and mobile phones are set to be radically improved if new technology developed by Oxford scientists comes to fruition.

Engineers at Isis, a technology transfer spin-out company of the University of Oxford, have found a way of creating antennas which can work in three "planes" but that are small enough to fit in hand-held devices.

Existing antennas for consumer electronics only track a signal as it moves from side to side between its origin and the receiving unit, but the Isis antennas will allow for up and down signal motion to be detected as well.

"There is a requirement - and demand - to make these antennas compact enough to allow you to basically emit and transmit in three dimensions," Rakesh Roshan, one of the Isis engineers, told BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme.

"Basically you to slap it on the back of a mobile phone, or laptop, and you can gain the critical advantage of saving space and making it more efficient," he added.

Proper signal

The antennas have three different "elements" included to track all three polarisations of electromagnetic waves.

Fundamentally this gives the device much greater capacity.

Mobile phone/PDA
What our technology can offer is a 33 percent gain in efficiency
Rakesh Roshan

"Imagine three different elements printed on the antenna - depending on how you want to use it, you can use all three independently, or use them to carry combined information," Mr Roshan said.

"So you can use them to have either a more robust link or a more reliable one."

This means that the user can choose whether to put the extra capacity into boosting the signal range, having lower battery use, or acquiring more data.

"If you see people in a cluttered environment, when they use their phones they have to rush out to get a proper signal," Mr Roshan

"Sometimes they have to nearly jump out the window to get a signal.

"So I think what our technology can offer is a 33% gain in efficiency - meaning you don't need to rush out. In a cluttered environment you can receive those signals, so no more jumping out of the window."

He also explained that what has made the Isis "compact dielectric antenna systems" - as the technology is known - attractive to industry is that it uses existing materials and can be quickly brought to market.

"It uses the current materials and plugs into the current infrastructure, so you don't have to do anything different," he said.

"This is what makes this particular invention very attractive to the commercial partners."

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