IBM, Ericsson Unveil mmWave Integrated Circuit for 5G Phased Array
IBM and Ericsson on Tuesday unveiled a new silicon-based millimeter wave phased array integrated circuit (IC) the pair said is designed for use in future 5G base stations.
According to the companies, the IC operates at 28 GHz and has already been demonstrated in a phased array antenna module, paving the way for its use in future 5G networks.
The IC is the result of two years of collaboration between the companies that combined IBM’s expertise in highly integrated phased array millimeter wave IC and antenna-in-package solutions and Ericsson’s in-depth knowledge of circuit and system design for mobile communications.
IBM indicated the module includes four monolithic integrated circuits and 64 dual-polarized antennas. It is approximately 2.8” by 2.8”, or about half the size of a typical smartphone, delivering a compact form factor the company said is necessary to support 5G’s widespread deployment, especially in indoor spaces and dense metropolitan areas. Additionally, the concurrent dual-polarization operation in both the transmit and receive modes allows one phased array antenna module to form two beams simultaneously, doubling the number of users served, the company said.
The phased array design from IBM and Ericsson also supports beam steering resolution of less than 1.4 degrees.
“The development of this 5G millimeter wave phased array is an important breakthrough, not just because of its compact size and low cost, which make it a very commercially attractive solution for network equipment companies and operators, but its potential to unleash and inspire brand new ideas and innovations we haven’t yet imagined, thanks to a fully networked society,” Dario Gil, vice president of Science and Solutions at IBM Research, said.
According to IBM the IC builds upon the company’s previous millimeter wave work, including its development of a monolithic millimeter wave radio in 2006, a highly integrated millimeter wave phased array transceiver for mobile and radar in 2013, and its explorations of how mobile handsets will communicate at millimeter wave frequencies.
The company said a paper describing IBM and Ericsson’s work on the IC – titled “A 28GHz 32-Element Phased-Array Transceiver IC with Concurrent Dual Polarized Beams and 1.4 Degree Beam-Steering Resolution for 5G Communications” – will be presented today at the 2017 International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco.
Last year, Ericsson announced plans to launch what it called the world’s first commercial 5G radio for massive and multi-user MIMO sometime in 2017. Dubbed the AIR 6468, the new radio will offer a mix of advanced antennas and steerable ports to enable beamforming, Massive MIMO and multi-user MIMO. According to the company, the AIR 6468 will combine with Ericsson’s previously announced 5G Plug-Ins and current Radio System Baseband 5216 to offer operators all components of a 5G access network.
The equipment supplier push toward 5G comes as carriers across the globe prepare for the launch of next generation wireless technology.
In the United States, Verizon is moving forward with pre-commercial fixed wireless 5G pilots in 10 locations, while AT&T has teamed up with Intel on a 5G business trial and recently announced plans to test 5G technology in Austin and Indianapolis in the coming months. Unlike its competitors, Sprint has indicated it’s more focused on mobile than fixed 5G applications, and so has T-Mobile.
5G starts with chips like IBM and Ericsson’s silicon antenna
The thin, integrated 28GHz module should bring commercial networks closer to reality
A piece of silicon less than three inches across may speed up the arrival of 5G mobile networks in the next few years.
IBM Research and Ericsson have developed a compact antenna array that can aim high-frequency radio signals at mobile devices and shoot them farther than they otherwise could reach, the companies said. Silicon integration makes it thin and energy efficient so it’s more commercially viable.
Carriers expect 5G networks to deliver cellular data speeds in the gigabits per second, far faster than what today’s LTE services offer. They also expect benefits like less power consumption, lower latency and the ability to serve a lot more devices at the same time.
But before they build those networks, the carriers will need equipment that’s not too expensive to turn a profit for them. IBM and Ericsson say the 64-antenna package they’re announcing on Tuesday pushes 5G a long way toward commercial reality.
In a two-year joint project, the IBM and Ericsson researchers packed key components of an antenna module, such as power amplifiers, into a single IC (integrated circuit). Then they combined four of those ICs, plus 64 solid-state silicon antennas, in a package that measures 2.8 inches (7cm) on each side.
The area of the module was dictated by physics, because the antennas can’t get any smaller. But integrating other components in an IC made the package slimmer, cooler and more efficient, said Hakan Andersson, 5G product manager at Ericsson.
Packages like this will go into small cellular base stations that use frequencies in the 28GHz band, one of several millimeter-wave bands that are expected to make 5G possible. Millimeter waves aren’t useful everywhere but are being considered for indoor spaces and crowded urban areas.
Such high-frequency signals normally can’t travel far, but emerging technologies like the part developed by IBM and Ericsson can focus those signals into beams and point them at users’ devices. They claim it’s the most precise system of its kind. It’s quick enough to follow devices being carried by users or moving in cars at highway speeds, the companies say.
5G smartphones and other mobile devices probably won’t get 64 antennas, but they may use beam-steering with a smaller number of antennas, Andersson said.
IBM and Ericsson’s antenna array can change direction in 200 microseconds or less, and it uses dual polarization to send signals in two directions at once, reaching more devices. But there are no moving parts in the system. It shifts the phase of each antenna electronically to change the direction of the signal, said Alberto Valdes-Garcia, IBM Research staff member and manager of the RF Circuits and Systems Group.
Until now, cellular networks have never used frequencies above 6GHz. Several higher bands, including ones around 24-27GHz, 38GHz, and 70GHz as well as 28GHz, have more available bandwidth than today’s lower frequency cellular bands. That means more capacity, so more devices can get faster service. The principles used in developing the new ICs can be applied to other millimeter-wave frequencies, Valdes-Garcia said.
The technology is being announced on Tuesday at the International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco. The 28GHz packages are expected to be used in base stations that will go through trials later this year. Large-scale commercial deployment of 5G networks isn’t expected until 2020.