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Beyond 5G technology

Guided by concrete system needs, imec explores solutions to enable the next generation of wireless networking technology.

What’s the future of wireless communication? Technological advancements will enable many new applications, including:

  • high-speed mobile connectivity through hotspots in dense city centers
  • capture and delivery of 3D scenes, used in holography, for instance
  • direct exchange of large amounts of data, which enables federated learning between AI systems for use in autonomous cars, for example

For applications such as these, even 5G will be unable to deliver the required throughput, latency, and energy-efficiency levels. Moreover, the congestion of currently-used radio bands dictates a move to higher frequencies – above 100 GHz.

These shortcomings necessitate improvements on many levels of the RF front end. Imec tackles these with its advanced RF program, a pre-competitive research initiative guided from a system perspective to enable wireless high-volume applications to become a commercial reality.

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Applications such as holography will require a new generation of wireless technology.

The value of compound semiconductors for the move beyond 5G

To compensate for signal loss above 100 GHz, transmit power – and thereby energy efficiency – will need to increase. The low efficiency of silicon CMOS at ultra-high frequencies can then no longer be ignored.

That’s why imec is looking into the use of III-V devices forkey RF front-end circuits like power amplifiers and low-noise amplifiers. Gallium nitride (GaN) and especially indium phosphide (InP) hold a lot of promise because of their high speed and efficiency.

Therefore, one of the goals of imec’s advanced RF program is to investigate the use of III-V materials and their integration with silicon CMOS. This includes:

  • Assessing the reliability and possible degradation of these materials.
  • Bringing compound materials to a 300-mm silicon platform through wafer reconstitution or nanoridge engineering.
  • Exploring different device architectures such as bipolar junction transistors and HEMT.
  • Improving the yield of the devices.

By leveraging the experience from its 3D program for logic and memory, imec is uniquely positioned to design compact and performant RF circuits and modules, thereby reliably integrating different technologies.

Two possible ways to bring III-V materials to a silicon platform: wafer reconstitution and nanoridge engineering.

Beyond 5G from an application perspective

The wide variety of use cases for next-generation wireless technology precludes a one-size-fits-all R&D approach. Instead, imec will take the route of system-technology co-optimization (STCO): technologies and system design are continually tuned to each other and to the needs of the envisioned application.

Consequently, careful modeling, with realistic simulations at every level, is an important part of imec’s advanced RF program. By building on our extensive knowledge from materials to algorithms, we are able to design detailed systems – including antennas – that will guide our partners toward the best technology choices when it comes to performance, power consumption and cost.

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