A team of researchers from the Universitat Politècnica de València's El Instituto de Telecomunicaciones y Aplicaciones Multimedia (iTEAM) in Spain claims to have created the first tunable broadband RF photonic phase shifter. The study was funded in part by the "Governing the speed of light" (GOSPEL) project, which was backed under the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) to the tune of €2.19 M.

Experts believe optical phase shifters for RF signals are important components for the installation of hybrid broadband telecommunication systems. They combine fibre optic transmission and radio transmission. They are the basis of convergence between networks, a required step for either accessing the Internet or swapping the orientation of radar and satellite antennas.

According to the researchers, there are several applications of the phase shifter, including radio astronomy and terrestrial satellites, as well as radar antennas, ultra wideband communications, radio link systems and RF applications for automobiles. These applications help boost the flow of information transmission, effectively mitigating traffic and guaranteeing the best performance of the entire communication system.

José Capmany, the head of UPV's iTEAM, said the phase shifter is important for two reasons.

"First, a 75 percent reduction – in comparison with previous designs – in the number of components needed will make it possible to save some of the space that the phase shifter occupies when it is integrated into a chip, and, consequently, save in the production costs too," he said. "Moreover, reducing the number of active elements from five to one means a saving in energy consumption of up to 80 percent."