Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces: A Signal Processing Perspective With Wireless Applications

Emil Björnson, Henk Wymeersch, Bho Matthiesen, Petar Popovski, Luca Sanguinetti, Elisabeth De Carvalho

A reconfigurable intelligent surface (RIS) is a two-dimensional surface of engineered material whose properties are reconfigurable rather than static [4]. For example, the scattering, absorption, reflection, and diffraction properties can be changed with time and controlled by software. In principle, the surface can be used to synthesize an arbitrarily-shaped object of the same size, when it comes to how electromagnetic waves interact with it [5]. The long-term vision of the RIS technology is to create smart radio environments [9], where the wireless propagation conditions are co-engineered with the physical-layer signaling, and investigate how to utilize this new capability. The common protocol stack consists of seven layers and wireless technology is chiefly focused on the first three layers (physical, link, and network) [10]. An RIS operates at what can be referred to as Layer 0, where the traditional design issue is the antennas of the transmitter/receivers; one can think of RIS as extending the antenna design towards the environment, commonly seen as uncontrollable and decided by "nature". This approach can profoundly change the wireless design beyond 5G. This article provides a tutorial on the fundamental properties of the RIS technology from a signal processing perspective, to complement the recent surveys of electromagnetic and hardware aspects [4], [7], communication theory [11], and localization [8]. We will provide the formulas and derivations that are required to understand and analyze RIS-aided systems, and exemplify how they can be utilized for improved communication, localization, and sensing. We will also elaborate on the fundamentally new possibilities enabled by Layer 0 engineering and electromagnetic phenomena that remain to be modeled and utilized for improved signal processing.

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