Engineers Develop Wireless Transceiver for 6G

Electrical engineers at the University of California, Irvine, have developed a new wireless transceiver that operates at frequencies of over 100 GHz with 4 times the speed of the upcoming 5G wireless communications standard.

Labeled as an "end-to-end transmitter-receiver" by its creators in UCI's Nanoscale Communication Integrated Circuits Labs, the 4.4-millimeter-square silicon chip is capable of processing digital signals significantly faster and more energy-efficiently because of its unique digital-analog architecture.

According to senior author Payam Heydari, NCIC Labs director and UCI professor of electrical engineering & computer science - They call the chip 'beyond 5G' because the combined speed and data rate that it can achieve is two orders of magnitude higher than the capability of the new wireless standard. In addition, operating in a higher frequency means that everyone can be given a bigger chunk of the bandwidth offered by carriers.

Academic researchers and communications circuit engineers have long wanted to know if wireless systems are capable of the high performance and speeds of fiber-optic networks. The group's answer is in the form of a new transceiver that leapfrogs over the 5G wireless standard - designated to operate within the range of 28 to 38 GHz - into the 6G standard, which is expected to work at 100 GHz and above. This invention could transform the telecommunications industry because wireless infrastructure brings about many advantages over wired systems. 

Having transmitters and receivers that can handle such high-frequency data communications is going to be vital in ushering in a new wireless era dominated by the "internet of things," autonomous vehicles, and vastly expanded broadband for streaming of high-definition video content and more. 

While this digital dream has driven technology developers for decades, stumbling blocks have begun to appear on the road to progress. According to Heydari, changing frequencies of signals through modulation and demodulation in transceivers has traditionally been done via digital processing, but integrated circuit engineers have in recent years begun to see the physical limitations of this method. 

NCIC Labs researchers utilized a chip architecture that significantly relaxes digital processing requirements by modulating the digital bits in the analog and radio-frequency domains.

In addition to enabling the transmission of signals in the range of 100 GHz, the transceiver's unique layout allows it to consume considerably less energy than current systems at a reduced overall cost, paving the way for widespread adoption in the consumer electronics market. 

Co-author Huan Wang, a UCI doctoral student in electrical engineering & computer science and an NCIC Labs member, said that the technology combined with phased array systems - which use multiple antennas to steer beams - facilitates a number of disruptive applications in wireless data transfer and communication. This innovation eliminates the need for miles of fiber-optic cables in data centers, so data farm operators can do ultra-fast wireless transfer and save considerable money on hardware, cooling, and power. 

TowerJazz and STMicroelectronics provided semiconductor fabrication services to support this research project.