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Time Modulated Arrays: From their Origin to Their Utilization in Wireless Communication Systems


Time-modulated arrays (TMAs) are electromagnetic systems whose radiated power pattern is controlled by the application of variable-width periodical pulses to the individual elements. The nonlinear nature of the array operation causes the appearance of radiation patterns at the harmonic frequencies of such periodic pulses. The technique can be used for improving the side-lobe level (SLL) topology of the radiation pattern at the central frequency and/or to profitably exploit the harmonic patterns in order to supply smart antenna capabilities.

Among the latter features, the TMA harmonic beamforming takes on special importance due to its attractive trade-off performance-hardware complexity. From this perspective, TMAs are sensors capable of transforming the spatial diversity of a communication channel into frequency diversity, thus improving the performance of a wireless communication. In addition to a walk through the origins of the concept, and a brief analysis of the mathematical fundamentals, this paper organizes the prolific state of the art of TMAs in two major thematic blocks: (1) TMA design from an antenna perspective; and (2) TMA design from a signal processing perspective.


Figure 2. Transmitter block diagram considering a linearly modulated digital signal radiated through a time-modulated array (TMA) exploiting its fundamental pattern

Figure 2. Transmitter block diagram considering a linearly modulated digital signal radiated through a time-modulated array (TMA) exploiting its fundamental pattern

The main reason for this choice is that these signals exhibit the simplest schemes to be considered in any analysis pertaining to digital signal transmission systems. On the other hand, a TMA by itself imposes a nonlinear transformation—derived from the application of periodic pulses to the antenna excitations, as mentioned above—and, therefore, linear modulations avoid the introduction of additional non-linearities in the communication system. The block diagram in Figure 2 illustrates the continuous-time version of the system under study, in which a linearly modulated digital signal s(t) is first generated by means of an in-phase and quadrature modulator at carrier fc, and, next, s(t) is radiated through a TMA that exploits its fundamental pattern assuming a fast decay of the harmonics.

Figure 3. Receiver block diagram based on a linear digital modulation scheme incorporating a TMA

Figure 3. Receiver block diagram based on a linear digital modulation scheme incorporating a TMA

In such a work, the TMA exclusively exploits its fundamental pattern (a pencil beam pattern in this case). The block diagram of the corresponding digital communication system under study is shown in Figure 3. Such a study characterized, for the first time and from a theoretical point of view, the bit error rate (BER) of a linearly modulated digital communication system with a TMA at the receiver for the simplest case of an AWGN channel model.


The interplay between TMA and digital communications still faces a number of challenges. Among them, we highlight the following ones:
• The exploitation of TMA at transmission. Up to now, the applications of TMA in the area of digital communications mainly focus on receiving TMA. Hence, the performance of transmitting TMA from a signal processing outlook, and in different scenarios, is still an unexplored research field. We propose two areas which certainly deserve further exploration: (1) the performance analysis of transmitting TMA in multiuser scenarios; and (2) the feasibility of diversity transmission techniques with TMA.
• Performance with broadband signals. The TMA state of the art exclusively focuses on narrowband signals. However, communications nowadays must unavoidably deal with broadband signals. The higher the bandwidth, the higher the switching frequency in the TMA, the wider the bandwidth at the RF stage, and the higher the sampling rate at the ADC. On the other hand, an analysis of TMA behavior under frequency-selective fading still remains to be done.


The state of the art of TMA is organized in this work from two perspectives depending on the antenna synthesis criteria: (1) designs from an antenna perspective (exclusively) or (2) designs from a signal processing perspective. Most of the research works about TMA belong to the first group and are characterized by studying the TMA in an isolated manner, or, in other words, exclusively under the antenna designer point of view.

The second group consists of those investigations that consider, in addition, the interaction between the TMA technique and the nature of the signals sent or received by such an antenna, i.e., those works with a strong component of array signal processing and, therefore, constituting the hybrid discipline antennas-signal processing. The most recent works belong to the latter group and definitely are marking the future lines of investigation in this promising topic.

Source: University of A Coruna
Authors: Roberto Maneiro-Catoira | Julio Bregains | Jose A. García-Naya | Luis Castedo

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