HRL Labs Develops New RF Switch Technology for High-Speed 5G Data Streaming

HRL Laboratories has announced a major advancement in RF switches over existing technology that will vastly accelerate data streaming in devices on 5G networks. Besides faster audio and video, the new switch enables a more reliable signal and wider bandwidth for simultaneous data streams.

This report is of the first antimony-telluride (SbTe) phase-change material (PCM)-based RF switch. The PCM switch changes its material phase from metallic to insulating, to switch between on (metallic) and off (insulator) states. The switch enables signals with extremely low-loss and high isolation for increased speed and clarity well into the millimeter-wave (mmW) frequency range. These qualities make it an excellent mm-Wave switch technology for the huge data streaming demands of 5G wireless networks.

During testing, the switch set an impressive world record of 10 million reliable switching cycles without failure, a dramatic improvement over the previous record set by a PCM-based switch. The metric that indicates switch quality—its figure of merit—was as high as 6.3 THz on this switch. That is an improvement of about 10 times over current RF silicon-on-insulator or SOI switches, according to HRL’s principal investigator on the project, Jeong-Sun Moon. He sees these PCM RF switches as a potentially invaluable technology for future wireless devices that run up to the very high mmW frequencies.

The switch technology was presented at the International Microwave Symposium 2018 held back in June. Moon said he is continuing to perfect the PCM RF switches and is hoping to reach even higher performance levels for compatibility with the higher data rates of future mm-Wave systems, including 5G wireless networks. Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency under their Materials for Transduction (MATRIX) program, this technology fits the program’s development of transductional materials that convert energy between different forms or domains, such as thermal to electrical energy, or electric fields to magnetic fields.