Radio Frequency (RF) engineering is a subset of electrical engineering that deals with devices, which are designed to operate in the radio frequency spectrum.

RF and microwave engineering is incorporated into almost everything that transmits or receives a radio wave, which includes but is not limited to mobile phones, radios, Wi-Fi and walkie-talkies, and digital satellite television.

Current research being conducted by the RF and Microwave Engineering group at UCT includes radar and sonar and defence electronics. The group is also beginning to explore research in communications, placing an emphasis on software. Further research by the group includes looking into new ways to route information around a network, specifically the software involved in receivers and transmitters.

As the radio spectrum is a valuable resource with limited availability remaining, the UCT RF and Microwave Engineering group is very involved with exploring fascinating new ways to utilise existing transmitters, and essentially to ‘piggy-back’ off their signals, which would allow for far more efficiency and use of the radio spectrum, while yielding interesting new applications. For example, by piggy-backing off a TV, radio or other antenna, one would effectively be able to create a successful form of radar without wasting the radio spectrum. By using a specialised antenna array to steer a beam to receive a reference signal from existing transmitters and to pick up reflections from aircraft, it would be possible to create an aircraft-detecting radar that would not give off the location of the original source. This has obvious military application.

The RF and Microwave Engineering group is sponsored by the Armaments Corporation of South Africa (ARMSCOR) and is currently investigating a variety of other defence implications for RF and Microwave Engineering, including defence electronics and the possibility of utilising RF to create a network defence for South Africa. In order to accommodate the growing demand in the defence sector for more efficient technologies, UCT offers a taught master’s programme – the Master of Engineering in Radar and Electronic Defence.