By enabling use of 6G technology, innovation in Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces is set to revolutionize the mobile telecommunications industry in the coming years. Senior Business Intelligence Consultant Eva Razzouk examines the patent dynamics in the fast-changing industry to reveal the major players and main R&D markets for this breakthrough technology.
RIS: A 6G technology hyper-connectivity enabler!
Hyper-connectivity and ubiquitous services are one of the main visions of 6G technology, the next-generation of mobile communication systems. To achieve extremely high data rates (exceeding 1 Tbps) and global network coverage, millimeter-waves (30-300 GHz) and terahertz (0.1-10 THz) frequency bands will be exploited.
However, working in those bands comes at a price. At those frequencies, transmission distance and coverage range are very limited due to high spreading loss and molecular absorption, as well as high penetration loss and obstacle blockages.
To capitalize on the possibilities offered by those bands (namely ultra-high speeds and large amounts of data exchange) and progress the rise of digital transformation, a bypass to those limitations is required.
Reconfigurable intelligent surfaces (RISs), also known as intelligent reflecting surfaces (IRSs) or large intelligent surfaces (LISs), have been recently proposed as one of several promising wireless communication solutions to enhance the coverage of high-frequency band signals and hence address the challenges to 6G coverage.
What is a RIS?
RIS consists of intelligent reflection surfaces that alter base station signal properties to achieve better network capacity and coverage. By smartly reconfiguring the wireless propagation environment and tuning the incident signals, RIS is transforming the wireless environment from a passive to an intelligent actor.
Source: ETSI GR RIS 001 V1.1.1
RIS can be implemented in different forms or shapes and integrated into objects such as walls, buildings, lamp posts, and more.
Source: IEEE Spectrum
In addition to its use in 6G, RIS is also proposed as a solution to mitigate a wide range of challenges encountered in diverse wireless networks, including indoor/outdoor communications, unmanned systems, satellite networks, and the Internet of Things (IoT), thus creating "smart" radio environments.
Source: “Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces: Principles and Opportunities” a May 2021 paper by Yuanwei Liu, Senior Member, IEEE, Xiao Liu, Xidong Mu, Tianwei Hou, Jiaqi Xu, Marco Di Renzo, Fellow, IEEE, and Naofal Al-Dhahir Fellow, IEEE
By turning the wireless environment into a service, RIS presents itself as a sustainable and environmentally friendly solution, reducing EM pollution, providing low-cost implementation, and an energy-efficient technology.
According to RIS Industry Specification Group (ISG) report: Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces (RIS); Use Cases, Deployment Scenarios and Requirements by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) in April 2023 (ETSI GR RIS 001 V1.1.1): “This trend [RIS] will expand basic wireless system design paradigms, creating innovation opportunities which will progressively impact the evolution of wireless system architecture, access technologies, and networking protocols.”
What do patent dynamics tell us about the innovation status of this emergent technology?
To understand the innovation and R&D activities in this emerging technology, we performed a macro search using our proprietary IP intelligence software. By analyzing RIS-related patents collected using our IP consulting services expertise, we were able to create a fascinating global insight into research advancement and investment in this field.
6G technology: Patent dynamics and top players
Patent filing dynamics reveal a new entrance technology with booming R&D activities by the end of the last decade. The number of patent families recorded in 2021 was 1,217, reflecting the introduction of the RIS solution as a pillar in enabling next-generation wireless networks and, more specifically, 6G technology.
Major players from the telecommunications and technology industries can be found among the main innovation investors in RIS, along with the contribution of academics, mainly from China. The South Korean giant SAMSUNG is taking the lead with 28% of the total identified inventions, thus aligning with the company’s major 6G research activities.
Among the top players, QUALCOMM and LG ELECTRONICS contribute with ~6% and ~5% of innovation activities respectively, identifying them as key players, just as they were identified among the top 10 players in 6G activities in our previous blog (6G, A new era already on the rise).
6G technology: Geographical hotspots for RIS-related innovations
Although the top three players are South Korean (SAMSUNG and LG ELECTRONICS) and American (QUALCOMM), China is still identified as the major country of origin for these 6G technology inventions, with ~52% of the total number of identified inventions.
European contribution to research activities is still small compared to those of Asia and the USA. The main significant increase in patenting activities is detected from 2020, a tendency that is expected to continue considering RIS is a promising solution to the main limitations of the newly exploited frequency bands.
6G technology: Market coverage for RIS-related innovations
It is no surprise to see the highest number of inventions have been published in the main innovation countries, namely China, the USA, and South Korea. The number of Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications (via WIPO) is relatively high, reflecting a more global strategy of protection for a technology that will presumably play a vital role in enabling the use of ultra-high wave bands.
As projects, experiments, and standardization efforts are ongoing for 6G technology, work to create a common ground specification has already started for RIS, with various activities across academia and industry taking place. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has established an Emerging Technology Initiative on Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces (ETI-RIS) to support research initiatives. ETSI, a global provider of applicable standards for ICT and partner in the international Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPPTM), created its Industry Specification Group on Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces (ISG RIS) group in June 2021 to develop a global standardization for RIS technology. It published its first report on RIS in April 2023 (ETSI GR RIS 001 V1.1.1), defining use cases with related general Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and describing operational requirements for deployment scenarios of the specified use cases.
Patent dynamics can provide valuable insights into research and innovation trends and markets, as we hope this analysis on the 6G technology RIS illustrates. For further detail on patent activity in the mobile telecommunications sector or for specific advice or support, contact the Questel IP Consulting team.
Eva Razzouk is a Senior Business Intelligence Consultant at Questel. Holding a Master’s degree in engineering, Eva has more than 25 years of experience in telecommunications, IT, and data networks. Besides her academic experience as a university professor and Cisco Routing and Switching certified trainer, she worked as Systems Expert and a Technical Solutions Manager for Ericsson.