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Metal-insulator tech drives down cost of 60GHz WPAN

Posted: 06 Nov 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:wireless personal area networking? metal-insulator electronics? 60GHz WPAN devices?

Wireless personal area networking (WPAN) got a boost with the announcement by Motorola Labs that its joint-development agreement with Phiar Corp. has succeeded in validating metal-insulator electronics as a viable alternative to semiconductors for millimeter wavelength 60GHz WPAN devices.

IBM recently announced a deal with Taiwan's MediaTek to supply chipsets for the IEEE 802.15.3c WPAN standard using IBM's SiGe BiCMOS radios. Motorola claims to be developing a rival 60GHz radio sans semiconductors. "Phiar's devices perform very well when compared with the benchmark devices we selected," said Rudy Emrick, manager of Millimeter Wave RF Technology at Motorola Labs. "And at a lower cost than our benchmark devices."

Less costly option
Cost is the main technical obstacle to creating 60GHz WPANs. Off-the-shelf GaAs and indium phosphide (InP) discrete devices are available today to create 60GHz radios, but they drive the cost of WPAN devices up to more than $10,000. However, by switching to metal-insulator electronicswhich can be fabricated on standard CMOS lines atop ultracheap plastic substratesMotorola reports being able to drive the cost down to rival that of semiconductors. By way of comparison, IBM estimates that its SiGe BiCMOS 60GHz radio chips will enable WPAN devices to be priced as low as $100.

The IEEE 802.15.3c WPAN standard is aimed at providing short-range wireless gigabyte data connections, so that all the interconnections among components in a single room can be wireless, including the transmission of HD video and high-speed file transfers that could sync an iPod in just a few seconds.

Motorola reports successfully building a prototype WPAN device, with Phiar diodes receiving the 60GHz radio signal and stepping it down to a 2GHz to 3GHz signal using an inexpensive analog metal-insulator circuit. Phiar's ultra-inexpensive approach met or exceeded the performance specifications set by the IEEE standard. Bit error rates and minimum detectable power levels were all within Motorola's design specifications, giving its engineers a green light to start optimizing metal-insulator devices for future commercial WPAN products.

Secret technique
Metal-insulator electronics work by substituting a second layer of insulator and metal for the semiconductor found in MOS, ending up with a four-layer stack of metal-insulator-insulator-metal (MIIM). Phiar is keeping as a closely held trade-secret the specific two metals, and the insulators, that are used. The technique forms a quantum well between the insulators that only allows high-energy tunneling. Consequently, when a voltage is applied to the top metal that exceeds its threshold, a ballistic transport mechanism accelerates tunneling electrons across the gap.

Other companies developing millimeter wavelength 60GHz WPAN chipsets besides Motorola and IBM include the Wireless HD Consortium (LG Electronics, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. [Panasonic], NEC Corp., Samsung Electronics, SiBeam Inc., Sony and Toshiba); STMicroelectronics; Bridgeway Systems Inc.; and TeraBeam Inc.

In addition to 60GHz antenna-edge frequency conversion, Phiar also claims to be developing metal-oxide electronics with other industrial partners for parallel flash solid-state hard drives, monolithic millimeter-wave radar, integrated terahertz detector arrays for safe "x-ray vision," and chip-to-chip RF interconnects.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times

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