The wizard of wireless

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Every time you make or receive a mobile phone call, or send a picture from your phone, you have Professor Joe McGeehan to thank for developing the technology that made it possible.

  • Professor McGeehan’s first EPSRC grant, for £9,600, enabled many of the achievements that followed – from 3G networks to wireless LAN
  • Nokia’s first mass-market mobile phone was based on a design by Professor McGeehan
  • EPSRC-supported research led to the formation of a world-leading communications research facility, employing around 150 researchers

But Professor McGeehan’s genius doesn’t end with mobile phone calls. His research also led to the development of wireless routers, and many more devices besides. In the global history of technology, he is that important.

In the mid-1970s, fundamental research by Joe McGeehan, today Emeritus Professor of Communications Engineering at the University of Bristol, laid the foundations for modern mobile telephony. His work directly led to the ability to send pictures and video over mobile networks, as well as the development of 3G networks, wireless LANs, smart antennas, high efficiency ultralinear RF power amplifiers and software-defined radio (SDR).

Among his achievements, his designs formed the basis of Nokia’s first mass-market mobile phone, the Mobira MC25. A later collaboration with Lucent Bell Telephone Research Laboratories, HP Labs and Bradford University led to the development of the world 3G cellular standard.

In 1987, Professor McGeehan (pictured) was instrumental in forming the University of Bristol’s Centre for Communications Research, which, supported by key investments from EPSRC, has become one of the world’s leading communications research facilities. With a staff complement of around 150 researchers at its peak, the centre’s key research areas include wireless communications; electromagnetics; signal processing; networks and protocols; and photonics and quantum technologies.

The Bristol group’s recent achievements and collaborations include telemetry systems for Formula 1 teams; the development of record-breaking technology with the potential to significantly boost available data rates in future 5G mobile networks; and the formation of a number of successful spin-out companies.

The team have also made pivotal advances in multidisciplinary research related to a new generation of connected technologies linked to the Internet of Things, including home networks, smart grids, intelligent transport systems, healthcare sensing and wearable technologies.

Professor McGeehan says: “My first grant from the Science Research Council (SERC, EPSRC’s forerunner) laid the foundations for so much that followed – from accurate coverage prediction and data transmission to the design and engineering underpinning the first mobile phone. I’d like to think that’s £9,600 well spent.”