i2CAT presented Smart Surfaces and their disruptive industrial applications at MWC Barcelona 2024


In this edition of the Mobile World Congress, we presented the possibilities of RIS (Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces), also known as Smart Surfaces. This novel technology has the potential to revolutionise the field of wireless communications, especially in the context of 6G Open RAN (6G Open Radio Access Networks). At our booth within the Catalonia pavilion (Congress Square 210, booth 13), you were able to know the benefits of RIS in industrial environments through a mock-up of a late 19th-century factory, the Fàbrica Pagans of Celrà, that includes a production line where people and robots work together. In industrial environments like this, RIS enables the deployment of powerful 6G industrial private networks, supporting real-time monitoring and control applications in smart manufacturing and contributing to the precise localisation of objects.

RIS technology comprises many small, individually controllable elements that can manipulate electromagnetic waves through electronic control circuits. By changing the shape and orientation of these elements, Reconfigurable Smart Surfaces can be used to reflect, absorb, or transmit electromagnetic waves, allowing them to perform various functions. The industrial sector, especially manufacturing, requires highly reliable and low-latency communication networks to automate, control, and supervise machines and processes. The changing nature of industrial environments creates challenges such as signal blockages and obstructions. Implementing RIS in manufacturing facilities ensures a secure wireless communication environment. It can improve signal strength, reduce interference, and ensure reliable communication in critical areas when strategically placed. 


For Xavier Costa Pérez, ICREA Research Professor and Scientific Director at i2CAT, “i2CAT’s expertise in advanced 5G and 6G allows for exciting challenges like the cutting-edge research we are conducting with RIS. This technology will be a turning point for industries that need to deploy 6G industrial private networks, as it will put sustainability, energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness at the centre”. The i2CAT Foundation is currently taking part in three Horizon Europe SNS Joint Undertaking projects (BeGREEN, ORIGAMI and INSTINCT) and one UNICO I+D 6G (OPEN6G) project that explore this technology. Researchers from the centre have also authored prominent scientific papers about RIS. Particularly, i2CAT’s research on RIS involves developing software that controls smart surfaces, orchestrating its resources, and using RIS in more sophisticated applications such as localisation (wireless sensing).

In the context of BeGREEN, for instance, one of i2CAT’s main roles is to contribute towards efficiently integrating RIS into O-RAN. Recently, major players in the network business have made significant efforts towards the concept of Open RAN (O-RAN). Network operators may now acquire general-purpose hardware to customise their RAN following the O-RAN paradigm, per the O-RAN Alliance standardised architecture. Using RIS in such architecture would enable intelligently operated RIS in an open, multi-vendor and flexible RAN environment, significantly increasing overall network efficiency. 

Within the OPEN6G project, i2CAT will lead applied research on open RANs currently underway to design and develop a 6G-based open test platform for the new network and sensing applications related to smart surfaces. This project is coordinated by i2CAT and framed within the UNICO I+D 6G programme, funded by the European Union-NextGenerationEU within the framework of the Government of Spain’s Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan. i2CAT has been awarded 19 research projects and complementary activity for about € 16,5 million to be executed in 36 months, starting in January 2022.

During the MWC days, there was plenty of participation from i2CAT in activities, and we received the visit of the President of the Government of Catalonia and Vice-President, accompanied by the Secretary of Digital Policies, the General Director of Digital Society, and the Minister of the Department of Business and Work. The Secretary of Telecommunications and Digital Transformation also came to see our booth.

The Digital Catalonia Alliance at MWC Barcelona 2024

For the first time, the Digital Catalonia Alliance (DCA), an initiative of the Government of Catalonia and i2CAT, will have its own space at MWC Barcelona. The DCA booth will be located in the Catalonia stand of the Generalitat de Catalunya (CS210-CS220) and will be a meeting point for the more than 550 members of the six technological communities of the Alliance.

During the four days of the congress, the Alliance’s team will offer one-on-one meetings to address and identify challenges, map out a personalised plan to respond to specific business needs and inform about the services offered by the alliance. Members adhering to the DCA Premium plan will also have a private space at the stand to conduct private client meetings. The booth will also hold meetings between member companies and international delegations.