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The future of high-frequency, high-speed wireless communications could very well be plasma antennas capable of transmitting focused radio waves that would quickly dissipate using conventional antennas. Thus, plasma antennas might be able to revolutionise not just high-speed wireless communications but also radar arrays and directed energy weapons. The good news is that plasma antennas will be on-the-shelf in the next couple of years. The bad news is that some military powers can use it to create a more advanced version of its existing pain beam.

Advantages of plasma antennas
1. An important advantage of plasma antenna over a conventional antenna is that the former is much lighter. Based on a set of patented beam-forming technologies, these high-performance electronically-steerable antennas are extremely lightweight and compact.

2. Free from mechanical parts, these maintenance-free plasma antennas are ideally suited for a wide range of wireless communications and sensing applications.

3. Plasma antennas have a number of potential advantages for antenna design. These are reconfigurable. Whe one plasma antenna is de-energised, the antenna reverts to a dielectric tube, and a second antenna can transmit through it. This allows using several large antennas stacked over each other instead of several small antennas placed next to each other. This results in better sensitivity and directivity.

4. When a plasma element is not energised it is difficult to detect it by radar. Even when it is energised, it is transparent to the transmissions above the plasma frequency, which falls in the microwave region.

5. Plasma elements can be energised and de-energised in seconds, which prevents signal degradation.

6. When a particular plasma element is not energised, its radiation does not affect nearby elements.

7. Plasma antenna can focus high-frequency radio waves that would dissipate quickly if beamed by conventional arrays.

8. Plasma antennas boost wireless speeds. Such antennas could enable next-generation Wi-Fi that allows for super-fast wireless data transfers.

9. Solid-state plasma antennas deliver gigabit-bandwidth, and high-frequency plasma antenna could hold the key for economically viable super-fast wireless networking.

10. Plasma antennas might also be used to create low-cost radar arrays that could be mounted on cars to help them navigate in low-visibility conditions, or used to make directed, more focused and less bulky energy weapons.

11. Plasma antennas have developed an innovative range of selectable multi-beam antennas that meet the demands in today’s wireless communication, defense and homeland security markets.

Limitations
1. The current hardware uses a wider range of frequencies so it’s impractically massive to be used for mobile environments.

2. Plasma antennas are expensive and hard to manufacture.

3. High-frequency signals mean that antennas operating at higher frequencies couldn’t penetrate walls like conventional Wi-Fi, so signals would have to be refected throughout the buildings.

Plasma antennas could theoretically solve some of these problems because these can operate at a wider range of frequencies, but gas antennas are also more complex (and likely more expensive) than their silicon-diode counterparts, which are small enough to fit inside a cell phone.

With plasma antenna technology, there are kinks to iron out, but researchers and engineers are optimistic to make this promising technology commercially available in few years.


The author is in the department of physics, S.L.I.E.T., Longowal, District Sangrur, Punjab

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