This game-changing chip can process data four times faster than 5G

16 Jul 2019

The new transceiver chip is capable of speeds ‘beyond 5G’. Image: Steve Zylius/UCI

A team of engineers has invented a transceiver that can boost signals to quadruple the speeds of 5G before the technology even becomes the norm.

As nations of the world work to establish 5G networks, engineers at the University of California Irvine are already working on the technology that would make them redundant.

In a paper published to the IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits, the researchers detailed a new wireless transceiver that can boost radio frequencies into the 100GHz range. This would reach speeds four times what is achievable under the 5G wireless communication standard.

Labelled an ‘end-to-end transmitter-receiver’ by its creators, the 4.4 mm sq silicon chip is capable of processing digital signals significantly faster and more energy-efficiently because of its unique digital-analogue architecture.

Payam Heydari, senior author of this latest research, said he and his colleagues refer to it as the ‘beyond 5G chip’ as it would be capable of bringing the speeds of fibre optic networks wirelessly.

“If such a possibility could come to fruition, it would transform the telecommunications industry, because wireless infrastructure brings about many advantages over wired systems,” Heydari explained.

No need for miles of cabling

With the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently opening up new frequency bands of 60GHz, the researchers said that their transceiver is the first to provide end-to-end capabilities in this part of the spectrum. Much of the technology that will soon be integral to our infrastructure – such as the internet of things, autonomous vehicles and industry 4.0 – will work at unprecedented speeds at this spectrum.

One of the researchers’ biggest hurdles in development was in changing frequencies of signals through modulation and demodulation in transceivers. Traditionally this has been done using digital processing, but recent discoveries have shown that this method has physical limitations.

“Moore’s law says we should be able to increase the speed of transistors – such as those you would find in transmitters and receivers – by decreasing their size, but that’s not the case any more,” Heydari said. “You cannot break electrons in two, so we have approached the levels that are governed by the physics of semiconductor devices.”

To get around this problem, they utilised a chip architecture that significantly relaxes digital processing requirements by modulating the digital bits in the analogue and radio frequency domains. Its design also consumes much less energy than current systems, allowing for widespread adoption in consumer electronics.

The paper’s co-author, Huan Wang, said: “Our innovation eliminates the need for miles of fibre optic cables in data centres, so data farm operators can do ultra-fast wireless transfer and save considerable money on hardware, cooling and power.”

Updated, 1.19pm, 16 July 2019: This article was amended to clarify that the FCC recently approved frequency bands of 60GHz, not 100GHz.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic