Apple has won a patent for Lens Structures related to Present and Future Satellite Communications on various Apple Devices
Today the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially published a granted patent for Apple relating to a satellite communications system may include control circuitry and an array of antenna modules. While the patent technically supports Apple's Emergency SOS service via satellite, the patent covers a broader range of future products using satellite communication, such as iPhones, iPads, Macs, Apple TV box, televisions, vehicles and more. The system is designed to work with medium earth orbit (MEO) and low earth orbit (LEO).
Apple's patent is a technical one and doesn't reveal specific future satellite services that could be coming down the road. Yet one interesting point was discovered in the patent credits. The patent stemmed from members of their 'Satellite Connectivity Group.' This would indicate that Apple has a much larger vision in mind for future satellite services.
Lens Structures for Satellite Communications
In long-range wireless communications systems such as satellite communications systems, communication terminals typically convey radio-frequency signals over long distances such as tens, hundreds, or thousands of miles. These distances subject the radio-frequency signals to substantial signal attenuation during propagation. In addition, the communication terminals often need to maintain several concurrent wireless links with other communication terminals in the satellite communications system.
If care is not taken, wireless components that support this type of long-range communication can consume excessive resources in the communication terminal such as power, space, and weight. It can also be challenging to maintain satisfactory wireless link quality between the communication terminals, particularly over long distances such as those associated with satellite communications systems.
Lens structures can be used to help focus radio-frequency signals in a particular direction. However, conventional lens structures exhibit limited gain at relatively high angles off of boresight.
Apple notes that their granted patent relates to a communication terminal in a communications system such as a satellite communications system may include control circuitry and an array of antenna modules.
Each antenna module may include an array of antenna radiators on a substrate and a radio-frequency lens overlapping the array of radiators. Each antenna module may include a transceiver chain that includes a transceiver, a phase shifter, and an amplifier shared by each of the radiators in the module. Each antenna module may include switching circuitry between the radiators and the transceiver chain.
The control circuitry may control the switching circuitry to activate a set of one or more radiators in a given module. The control circuitry may control the transceiver chain in the module to convey radio-frequency signals at a selected phase using each of the active radiators (e.g., by applying a selected phase shift with the phase shifter in the transceiver chain). Each of the active radiators may transmit and receive the radio-frequency signals over signal beams oriented in different directions by the radio-frequency lens over the module.
The radio-frequency lens may include a tapered base portion on the substrate and a curved portion on the tapered base portion. The curved portion may overlap each of the radiators in the array. The tapered base portion and the curved portion may both be rotationally symmetric about a central axis of the lens.
The curved portion may be hemispherical. The tapered base portion may be conical and may have a first end at the hemispherical portion and an opposing second end at the substrate. The first end may have a first radius and the second end may have a second radius that is less than the first radius. At least one radiator in the underlying array may be located farther than the first radius and within the second radius from the central axis of the lens. If desired, the lens may be formed from lattice structure having interleaved layers of dielectric segments separated by gaps to reduce the overall weight of the module.
The lens may allow the module to support communications links over greater elevation angles relative to boresight than in scenarios where flat panel lenses are used. The lens may redirect multiple concurrent signal beams at one or more frequencies and with any desired polarizations and phases.
Apple's patent FIG. 5 below is a diagram of illustrative antenna modules having corresponding lenses and radiators that may be selectively activated to direct radio-frequency signals in different directions; FIG. 10 is a diagram showing how an illustrative array of antenna modules may be controlled to form a phased array of antenna modules.
Apple's patent FIG. 11 below is a flow chart of illustrative steps involved in operating a phased array of antenna modules of the type shown in FIG. 10 above.
For more technical details and more patent figures, review Apple's granted patent US 11552405 B1.
- Matt Ettus: Technical Leader and Co-Founder of Satellite Connectivity Group
- Michael Trela: Satellite Connectivity Group
- Simone Paulotto: Sr. Antenna/Wireless Manager
- Carlo Di Nallo: Antenna/Wireless Product Design
- Adam Bily; Senior Antenna Engineer