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IBM's millimeter-wave transceiver eye mobile, radar apps

06 Jun 2013

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IBM scientists have made a major breakthrough by creating a phased-array transceiver that enables advanced radar-imaging technology to be scaled down to the size of a laptop. These novel ICs all of the millimeter-wave components necessary and tackle data bottleneck issues for mobile communications.

Advanced radio frequency integration has been a key driver in the explosive growth of mobile device capability and sophistication. Millimeter-wave bandwidth has the ability to support Gbit/s wireless communications, dramatically expanding opportunities for mobile backhaul, small cell infrastructure, and data centre overlay network deployment.

The frequency range of the 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.

"This transceiver presents the highest level of integration achieved so far in a silicon-based solution for millimeter-wave frequency applications," said Dr. Alberto Valdes-Garcia, Research Staff Member, IBM Research, Communication and Computation Sub-systems Group. "It is a key step towards phased-array systems of the future that are scalable, low-volume, light-weight, and low-cost."

IBM's millimeter-wave transceiver

Packaged view of the IC. The above photo depicts the size of the millimeter wave chip. Each of the 64 diamond shaped objects is an antenna. The spacing of these antennas is exact and allows for additional chips to be aligned next to the above one and expand the array.

Transceiver features

The packaged transceiver operates at frequencies in the range of 90-94GHz and is implemented as a unit tile, integrating four phased array ICs and 64 dual-polarized antennas. 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. The beamforming capabilities enabled by hundreds of antenna elements will allow for communications and radar imaging applications that will extend over a range of kilometres.

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. Multiple operating modes are supported, including the simultaneous reception of horizontal and vertical polarisations. Fabricated using an advanced IBM SiGe semiconductor process, the ICs also integrate frequency synthesis and conversion as well as digital control functions.

The complete scalable solution, which includes antennas, packaging, and transceiver ICs, transforms signals between millimeter-wave and base band, all in a form factor smaller than an American nickel.

Mobile Back-Haul Technology
Mobile service providers have started to alleviate backhaul congestion issues by using E-band wireless links. E-Band spectrum, allocated by the FCC for point-to-point communications, covers frequencies in the range of 71-76GHz, 81-86GHz and 92-95GHz, and enables wireless data transfer at very high rates. The atmospheric attenuation in this band is relatively low, making it well suited for supporting long-range communications links.

Today's E-band solutions consist of multi-chip modules and bulky mechanically aligned antennas. The newly developed compact scalable phased array solution provides electronic beam steering and the bandwidth to support Gbit/s wireless communications.

Millimeter-wave Radar and Imaging Capabilities
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. Frequencies in the range of 90-94GHz are well suited for short and long range, high-resolution radar imaging.

Weather, debris and other vision impairing obstructions often leave aircraft pilots helpless, but 94GHz radar imaging technology could alleviate this problem. Moreover, the design's support for two antenna polarisations—with minimal increase in footprint—provides a further advantage while navigating through fog and rain.

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