IBM and Ericsson develop “breakthrough” low-cost phased array 5G module

5G phased array module
Top and bottom images of the silicon-based mmWave phased array antenna module. The component is approximately 2.8in by 2.8in (approximately half the size of a typical smartphone). On the left are four monolithic silicon integrated circuits attached to the bottom of the package and on the right are dual-polarized antennas on the top of the package. (Credit: IBM Research)

IBM and Ericsson have announced a research breakthrough in 5G: a compact silicon-based mmWave phased array integrated circuit operating at 28 GHz that has been demonstrated in a phased array antenna module designed for use in future 5G base stations.

The two companies claim the phased array antenna module could accelerate the launch of 5G communications networks and support new mobile enterprise and user experiences enabled by very high data rates, including IoT, connected vehicles, and immersive virtual reality.

The phased array circuit is the product of a two-year collaboration between scientists at IBM and Ericsson that set out to develop phased array antenna designs for 5G. IBM specializes in highly integrated phased array mmWave IC and antenna-in-package solutions, while Ericsson’s expertise lies in circuit and system design for mobile communications.

Dr. Dario Gil, VP of Science & Solutions at IBM Research, said the development of the 5G millimeterWave phased array is an important breakthrough, “not just because of its compact size and low cost, which make it a very commercially attractive solution for network equipment companies and operators, but its potential to unleash and inspire brand new ideas and innovations we haven’t yet imagined, thanks to a fully networked society.”

For future 5G phased array deployments to be commercially viable the size, weight, cost and performance of the component are important factors. The silicon-based 28-GHz phased array antenna module is a significant step towards meeting this challenge, the companies say. The module, which consists of four monolithic integrated circuits and 64 dual-polarized antennas, measures approximately 2.8″ by 2.8″, or about half the size of a typical smartphone. Achieving this compact form factor is necessary to support the vision of this technology’s widespread deployment, especially in indoor spaces and dense downtown areas.

Another performance advance reported by the team is the demonstration of concurrent dual-polarization operation in transmit and receive modes. This capability enables one phased array antenna module to form two beams simultaneously, doubling the number of users to be served at the same time and so improving the overall value and economics of the technology.

A major hurdle for the use of mmWave signals in mobile communications is achieving sufficient range between radios to support target applications. At 28 GHz, each antenna is tiny and individually would support short communication distances, but combining multiple such tiny antennas not only increases the range but also enables steering of signals in specific directions. 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.

“There has been a lot of encouraging progress in 5G standardization last year including the beginning of live field trials. Big efforts in research and development are key to this and our collaboration with IBM Research on phased array antennas can help operators to effectively deploy radio access infrastructure necessary to support a 5G future,” said Thomas Noren, senior advisor of Business Unit Network Products at Ericsson. “New use cases and applications that span human machine interaction, virtual reality, smart home devices and connected cars will depend on innovative technologies that can bring the promises of faster data rates, broader bandwidth and longer battery life to reality.”

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