IBM, Ericsson Unveil 28GHz 5G Antenna

IBM Research and Ericsson said they have created a compact, silicon-based millimeter wave (mmWave) phased array antenna operating at 28 GHz.

The antenna, described by IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) as a research breakthrough, is an encouraging sign for the commercialization of 5G wireless networking in the spectrum favored by AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ).

"Compact" is a relative term. The size of a phased-array antenna system is dependent on operational frequency. A phased array at the much lower frequencies used in 2G, 3G and 4G wireless systems are at least a few feet across, explained Bodhisatwa (Bodhi) Sadhu, a communication circuits and systems scientist at IBM Research who helped lead the design of the new 28 GHz antenna.

At 28 GHz, however, an array can be much smaller. The one devised by IBM and Ericsson measures roughly 2.8 inches a side. Given the physics, however, it is unlikely it can be made much smaller in silicon.

At that size, it is unlikely to be appropriate for handsets. Instead, the two companies say, it will be used in base stations, vehicles and gateway systems. Gateways might come into play, Sadhu said, should gigabit-level 5G wireless end up being used for last-mile broadband connectivity.

The module consists of four monolithic integrated circuits and 64 dual-polarized antennas, IBM reports. The array was built using silicon germanium (SiGe) and a BiCMOS process. Using a silicon-based process, IBM said, means the antenna can be made at a relatively low cost.

That the antenna is a phased array will also minimize the power consumption of the wireless systems built around it.

The value of using a phased array antenna is that the signal beam can be dynamically directed or focused in a specific direction toward the receiving antenna. The IBM and Ericsson team’s phased array design supports beam-steering resolution of less than 1.4 degrees for high precision pointing of the beam towards users.

The beam-steering capability contrasts with most 2G, 3G and 4G antennas, which typically broadcast signals in wide and indiscriminate beams, wasting energy pushing signals in directions they don't need to go. This is energy that does not have to be expended if the antenna is a phased array.

The paper on the array that IBM and Ericsson presented at the ISSCC conference says they have also devised a new switch for the chip that increases output power.

IBM and Ericsson have been collaborating on antenna designs since at least 2014.

— Brian Santo, Senior Editor, Components, T&M, Light Reading

canders89 2/15/2017 | 1:30:20 PM
Behind Samsung???? Those posting that they are years behind Samsung are reading this article to be something it is not.  This is an announcement of a significant development of a piece of the 5G puzzle.  A low power 28Ghz phased array antenna with 11 MIMO's is quite an accomplishment.  I know of six companies that have been working on similar developments for over five years, and they are not there yet.  As you get into these much higher frequencies with their far shorter wavelengths, the technology becomes significantly more challenging for developers.  The short wavelength requires high processing speeds, and even the component layouts are critical.  The 28Ghz signal is never going to penetrate a car's windows or roof, so devices like this are going to be critical to the use of this frequency band in direct communication with a user device.  This frequency is much better suited for front-haul than it is for direct to the consumer device.  It will not penetrate much of anything, has a high loss over free space and must be highly directional to be effective. 

So I read this article as a major announcement in the advancement of antenna technology that will have application in 5G and several other areas.  Not an announcement on their overall progress on a 5G ecosystem.  

If as is stated, Samsung is so far ahead on that front, you can bet that Samsung will look into licensing or using this advancement.  It will become an important piece of using the 28Ghz effectively in 5G. 

danielcawrey 2/11/2017 | 5:06:34 PM
Re: They are late What's important here is how this will enable cars of all shapes and sizes to be better connected. Maybe even smaller vehicles like motorcycles - while I don't quite see Harley-Davidson adding connectivity anytime soon, the company's competitors will. 

Connected motorcycles - who'd have thought?
TV Monitor 2/10/2017 | 1:24:46 PM
Re: They are late Samsung 5G network is launching in September of this year and will enter a 5 month stabilization period before the big game, then visiting VIPs are handed specially prepared prototype Galaxy 5G phones to play with.

So yes, Ericsson is way way behind Samsung in mmwave 5G.


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inkstainedwretch 2/10/2017 | 1:14:32 PM
Re: They are late Yes.

At this pre-market stage, do they still have time to catch up?

-- Brian Santo
TV Monitor 2/10/2017 | 12:58:26 PM
They are late IBM and Ericsson are like 3 years behind Samsung.
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