New EU Project Studying the Use of GaN for NextGen 5G Cellular Networks

The 5G GaN2 project is a project driven by the EU to develop cost-effective and high-performance GaN based technologies for the upcoming 5G mobile communications standard. The 5G cellular network is expected to enable data transmission between humans, devices and machines in real time. And according to Fraunhofer IAF, so far no technology exists that allows for a reliable, fast and energy-efficient 5G network. A consortium of 17 companies started work on this project in July 2018. This includes Fraunhofer IAF.

Most communication today is done by humans with one another using wireless networks. In the 5G world, in addition to the current types of communication, there will be a host of other devices and machines that will transmit data in real time like cards, sensors, production machines etc. In the future, these high data rates will be covered by frequency bands in the millimeter wave range (>24GHz). Higher frequencies provide considerably higher bandwidth in comparison to currently available frequency bands (< 3 GHz) and have now been released internationally to significantly increase the bandwidth range.

The problem is that these new frequency ranges cannot be served efficiently with present mobile and antenna technology. It is, therefore, necessary to improve the available output power and energy-efficiency of devices that will operate at these higher frequencies using advanced gallium nitride technology.

In the 5G GaN2 project, components, parts and circuits for the 5G base stations will be developed using gallium nitride (GaN). The contribution of the Fraunhofer IAF to the overall project will be the development of power amplifiers in E-band, i.e. the frequency range around 80 GHz.

To ensure a flood of data via frequency bands in millimeter wave range in the future, basestation technology needs to fulfill two criteria: the output power needs to be improved while keeping the cost and the energy consumption low at the same time. To achieve these goals, the project partners of “5G GaN2” are counting on GaN based technology for amplifier circuits.

Electronic components and systems based on GaN are significantly more energy-efficient than conventional components made of silicon (Si). The GaN components will optionally be applied on cost-efficient Si substrates. Another aspect of the project is the combination of various components in a single case, through innovative packaging approaches in order to reduce costs.

The aim of the project is the realization of demonstrators at 28 GHz, 38 GHz and 80 GHz. These demonstrators shall serve as key technologies for the development of a powerful and energy-efficient 5G cellular network based on GaN. ECSEL, an initiative of the European Commission, promotes the three-year joint project, consisting out of 17 project partners from seven countries. ECSEL supports development, research and innovation in the field of electronics, by bringing various partners from industry, research and public sphere together.

Development of Amplifiers at the Fraunhofer IAF

The Fraunhofer IAF has the know-how to develop amplifiers based on GaN. GaN-based devices are especially well suited for powerful high frequency amplifiers that are required for base stations and the infrastructure of the cellular network, as they can provide high power at high frequencies. The amplifiers developed at the Fraunhofer IAF are capable of sending more data faster and energy-efficient through the cellular network.

Other than Fraunhofer IAF, the project consortium includes the complete value chain of the mobile phone technology: wafer suppliers, semiconductor manufacturers and system integrators develop together with universities and research institutes innovative GaN based technologies for the cellular network of the fifth generation.