RF and microwave communications

Techniques and applications that utilise and propagate signals, and related research around wireless technologies in the context of communications. This area includes research relating to wireless broadband, satellite communications, cellular technologies and other mobile communications techniques supporting future connected infrastructure.

We aim to maintain the size of this research area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio. This reflects the key contribution it makes in delivering the connectivity that will meet future data demands in an increasingly connected world. We want to maintain a strong portfolio of research in this area, while focusing on delivering impact and an improved balance of support across career stages.

By the end of the current Delivery Plan period, we aim to have:

  • A portfolio in which researchers subject their experiments to realistic, real-world testing wherever possible. Experimental testing of theoretical results and simulations in Radio Frequency (RF) and Microwave Communications research can significantly increase impact and researchers should take advantage of opportunities for this
  • Researchers considering emergent technologies requiring application of their research. There are expected to be many avenues by which this research area can have societal impact (e.g. in developing technology to connect sensor networks, and tools to enable the Internet of Things). In these cases, significant value can be added by tying programmes of work closely to use-case examples; we expect the community to continue to reach out to collaborators/users in application domains to achieve this
  • Increased collaboration and community-building among researchers. By the end of the period, we hope to see more leaders developing who will work across discipline boundaries and set new directions
  • A greater number of early-career researchers, as part of a rebalancing of support across career stages.

This research area is expected to contribute significantly to the full realisation of 5G and to advances in telecommunications further into the future. We want to maintain the current strong portfolio of project partners and interaction with users to achieve this. However, researchers should continue to develop concepts and technologies that are forward-looking and that may have impact on a longer timescale.


While there are a handful of strong UK research groups in this area, there are many small groups distributed widely and these often lack access to experimental test beds of scale, or they focus on theoretical research and modelling studies. The impact of some theoretical results is limited (Evidence source 1,2).

There is significant industrial interest in RF and Microwave Communications from the telecommunications industry (Evidence source 3,4,5,6), and it is clear that proposals co-developed with industry are often likely to result in high impact (Evidence source 1,2). Evidence exists, however, that risks are associated with following the mobile technology mass market too closely. Consideration must be given to finding a balance that includes research which may have an impact in the longer term. In the short term, the impact of such research may not be apparent due to restrictions imposed by standardisation (Evidence source 2).

Compared with other research areas in the EPSRC portfolio, a lower proportion of this research area is committed to training. A large percentage of postdoctoral researchers leave academia to work in industry, which has led to a relatively low number of early-career researchers (Evidence source 1).

As noted above, researchers in this field are important in contributing to the connectivity that will meet future data demands in an increasingly connected world (Evidence source 3,4,6), and such developments will be necessary to connect potentially billions of Internet of Things devices and to enable other connected sensor networks (Evidence source 5).

This research is also important in a wide range of applications of RF, microwave, millimetre wave and terahertz radiation beyond the field of communications (e.g. radar, spectroscopy, non-destructive testing and novel healthcare technologies) (Evidence source 1,7).

This research area will contribute to all four Prosperity Outcomes, but most strongly to the Connected Nation Outcomes over a shorter timeframe. The following Ambitions are particularly relevant within Productive, Connected, Resilient and Healthy Nation Outcomes:

P4: Drive business innovation through digital transformation

This research area could contribute to development of wireless sensor networks, including the Internet of Things, benefiting a variety of industries.

C2: Achieve transformational development and use of the Internet of Things

This research area is expected to be a key enabling discipline, enabling information to be shared wirelessly among distributed sensors.

R2: Ensure a reliable infrastructure which underpins the UK economy

This research area is expected to contribute to development of the reliable communications infrastructure needed as the number of connected devices increases rapidly in the near future.

H1: Transform community health and care

This research area is expected to contribute to development of distributed sensing and care infrastructure, and wireless transmission of real-time health and diagnostic information.

  1. Community and user engagement (individual input, group feedback and team visits/events, as well as evidence gathering and analysis), (2016).
  2. Input from the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Strategic Advisory Team, the CommNet2 Advisory Board and Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 panellists, (2016).
  3. NGMN, NGMN 5G White Paper, (2015).
  4. 5G PPP Architecture Working Group, View on 5G Architecture (PDF), (2016).
  5. Government Office for Science, The Internet of Things: Making the Most of the Second Digital Revolution (PDF), (2014).
  6. Cisco, Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2015-2020 White Paper, (2016).
  7. EPSRC, New Materials for RF and Microwave Technologies Workshop Report (PDF), (2014).

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.


We aim to maintain this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC Support by Research Area in RF & Microwave Communications (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.