Airborne antennas to address EMF concerns

Tethered unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with cellphone antennas could offer faster and more environmentally friendly coverage than that provided by fixed-base stations.

© 2021 KAUST; Xavier Pita.

Mobile tethered drones might offer a speedy and environmentally friendly alternative for receiving terrestrial base stations while alleviating public concerns about exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF).

A solution has been proposed by masters student Zhengying Lou, postdoc Ahmed Elzanaty and distinguished professor Mohamed-Slim Alouini of KAUST to address the widespread public concern about EMF exposure from mobile networks.

“It is mainly a problem of perception,” says Elzanaty, “but this concern has led to attempts to destroy signaling towers, especially those associated with the 5G network.” He does point out, however, that recent experiments on animals link some adverse health impacts with long-term exposure to EMF, although at higher intensities than those produced by cellphone networks. Given the widespread public concern, tackling this issue might be commercially and reputationally advantageous for mobile signal providers.

Elzanaty says that although most public concern focuses on exposure to EMF from network base stations — the towers located on high buildings and dotted across the rural landscape — the EMF exposure due to the radiation from mobile phones can be much higher than that from base stations. The team proposes that their tethered unmanned aerial vehicles (TUAVs) would act only to receive these signals, reducing users’ uplink exposure (the exposure from the mobile-to-base station).

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