The ‘Advanced RF’ programme at imec in Belgium is a pre-competitive research initiative to create a roadmap for devices, systems and networks beyond 5G and above 100GHz.
The programme will look at the use of hybrid ICs made using compound and CMOS semiconductors to achieve very high bandwidths at carrier frequencies above 100GHz with energy efficiency. imec will lok for multiple partners to fund and participate in the work and together produce prototypes to show the potential of various circuits and systems. It is already part of the EU Taranto project which produced a compact 140GHz radio module that enables single-link data rates up to 80 Gbit/s.
“There is still some discussion on 6G’s exact characteristics and performance specs, as the actual standardization effort has yet to start,” said Michael Peeters, vice-president of imec’s R&D activities in the connectivity domain, in a statement. “What is clear, though, is that next-generation wireless networks will largely outsmart their predecessors. Projected features include a 100 Gbit/s single-link throughput, microsecond latency and a significantly higher energy efficiency – less than 1 nanojoule per bit.”
“We believe this will be crucial to enable concepts such as federated learning between artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled autonomous systems such as self-driving cars. Other use-cases include the deployment of very high-speed, ultra-reliable mobile hot spots in dense urban centers, the support of immersive augmented reality (AR) applications and holography,” he added.
Silicon currently lacks the ability to transmit at the desired rates and energy efficiency, hence the need to add compound semiconductor circuits.
“New III-V materials – such as indium phosphide (InP) – might offer a way out, but do not yet lend themselves to be integrated onto a silicon platform. Hence, we will specifically look into hybrid III-V/CMOS approaches. We will investigate how III-V materials can heterogeneously be combined with CMOS technology, how those materials perform in terms of reliability, which degradation mechanisms are at work, etc. Building on those insights, we aim to create mobile device technology that efficiently and cost-effectively operates at 100GHz and beyond,” said Nadine Collaert, program director for imec’s analog/RF activities.
Next: 6G after OFDM
Similarly, the current default choice for high bit-rate interfaces – orthogonal frequency domain multiplexing (OFDM) – may no longer be the right choice for 6G systems operating above 100GHz. More directional beams at higher frequencies can make much more aggressive use of spatial multiplexing. Meshing and greater separation of data and control may become needed.
“It is widely recognized that future mobile networks will have to operate at frequencies above 100GHz to deliver data rates of 100 Gbit/s and more. So far, however, a clear and mature pathway to developing the underlying technology has been lacking,” said Luc Van den hove, CEO of imec. “With our Advanced RF program, we aim to extend our impact beyond our pioneering role in the semiconductor space – providing insight and technology across the connectivity ecosystem and not only when it comes to enabling 6G, but also to accommodate the next generation of Wi-Fi communications.”
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