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IBM: Progress in mm-wave ICs can loosen mobile data jam

Posted: 03 Jun 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:transceiver? millimeter-wave? mobile communications?

IBM researchers claim they have made a significant breakthrough in millimeter-wave ICs that can ease data bottleneck issues for mobile communications while allowing radar-imaging technology to be scaled down to the size of a computer laptop.

Millimeter-wave bandwidth has the ability to support Gb/s wireless communications, expanding opportunities for mobile backhaul, small cell infrastructure, and data centre overlay network deployment, according to IBM.

The IBM scientists have created a phased-array transceiver that contains all of the millimeter-wave components necessary for both high data-rate communications and advanced-resolution radar imaging applications.

Fully integrated phased array IC. 6.7mm X 6.7mm

Figure 1: Fabricated in IBM SiGe BiCMOS technology, the IC integrates 32 receive and 16 transmit elements with dual outputs to support 16 dual polarized antennas.

According to Alberto Valdes-Garcia, one of the lead researchers from IBM that worked on the project, the key advance in the new chip is the monolithic integration of all of the necessary components, including transmitter, receiver and all antennas, in a single package. Garcia will present a paper detailing the phased-array transceiver design Tuesday (June 4) at the IEEE Radio Frequency Integrated Circuit Symposium in Seattle.

"The breakthrough is the increased in the level of integration in our silicon-based solution at this frequency," Valdes-Garcia said in an interview with EE Times. Most existing millimeter-wave components use three-five materials rather than silicon, he said.

The complete solution, which includes antennas, packaging, and transceiver ICs, transforms signals between millimeter-wave and baseband and is smaller than a U.S. nickel, according to IBM

Valdes-Garcia said the frequency range of the new ICs is well suited for high-resolution radar imaging applications due to its short wavelength, relatively low atmospheric attenuation and ability to penetrate debris. The ICs enable radar technology to be scaled down, giving pilots the ability to penetrate fog, dust and other vision impairing obstructions, according to IBM.

The packaged transceiver operates at frequencies in the range of 90-94GHz, according to IBM. It is implemented as a unit tile, integrating four phased array ICs and 64 dual-polarized antennas.

Packaged view of the integrated circuit

Figure 2: Each of the 64 diamond shaped objects is an antenna.

By tiling packages next to one another on a circuit board, scalable phased arrays of large aperture can be created while maintaining uniform antenna element spacing, according to IBM. The beamforming capabilities enabled by hundreds of antenna elements will allow for communications and radar imaging applications that will extend over a range of kilometers.

Each of the four phased-array ICs in a tile integrates 32 receive and 16 transmit elements with dual outputs to support 16 dual polarized antennas, according to IBM. Multiple operating modes are supported, including the simultaneous reception of horizontal and vertical polarisations, IBM said.

The new ICs are fabricated using IBM's silicon-germanium process.

Millimeter-wave spans 30GHz to 300GHz on the electromagnetic spectrum, 10 to 100 times higher than the frequencies used for mobile phones and Wi-Fi, according to IBM. Frequencies in the range of 90-94GHz are well suited for short and long range, high-resolution radar imaging, the firm said.

Using 94GHz radar imaging technology could alleviate difficulties for aircraft pilots navigating through weather, debris and other vision impairing obstructions.

- Dylan McGrath
??EE Times

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