IBM shows off nickel-sized chip that backs Gb/sec wireless data-rates, cutting edge radar images

IBM circuit technology takes advantage of millimeter-wave spectrum for mobile backhaul, radar images

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IBM says it has packed an integrated circuit about the size of a nickel with technology that can enable gigabit/sec mobile data-rate and clutter-cutting radar image applications.

The integrated circuit takes advantage of millimeter-wave spectrum which spans the 30 GHz to 300 GHz range, 10 to 100 times higher than the frequencies used for mobile phones and Wi-Fi. Frequencies in the range of 90-94GHz are well suited for short and long range, high-resolution radar imaging, IBM said.

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IBM says that the chip is based on Silicon Geranium and "the transceiver operates at frequencies in the range of 90-94GHz and is implemented as a unit tile, integrating four phased array integrated circuits and 64 dual-polarized antennas. By tiling packages next to one another on a circuit board, scalable phased arrays of large aperture can be created while maintaining uniform antenna element spacing. The beamforming capabilities enabled by hundreds of antenna elements will allow for communications and radar imaging applications that will extend over a range of kilometers."

 "Each of the four phased-array integrated circuits in a tile integrates 32 receive and 16 transmit elements with dual outputs to support 16 dual polarized antennas. Multiple operating modes are supported, including the simultaneous reception of horizontal and vertical polarizations. Fabricated using an advanced IBM SiGe semiconductor process, the ICs also integrate frequency synthesis and conversion as well as digital control functions. The complete scalable solution, which includes antennas, packaging, and transceiver ICs, transforms signals between millimeter-wave and baseband, all in a form factor smaller than an American nickel," IBM stated.

The two primary applications IBM envisions for the chip include mobile backhaul and radar.

"Today's E-band solutions consist of multi-chip modules and bulky mechanically aligned antennas. The newly developed compact scalable phased array technology provides electronic beam steering and the bandwidth to support Gb/s wireless communications, IBM stated.

"Weather, debris and other vision impairing obstructions often leave aircraft pilots helpless, but 94GHz radar imaging technology could alleviate this problem.  Moreover, the design's support for two antenna polarizations-with minimal increase in footprint-provides a further advantage while navigating through fog and rain. The chip allows radar technology to be scaled down, giving pilots the ability to penetrate fog, dust and other vision impairing obstructions," IBM stated.

While the technology sounds pretty cool, in writing about the IBM technology the GiGOM consultancy notes that millimeter wave broadband, while fast, has significant limitations in that it is power hungry, can't go very far because the signals deteriorate and the equipment is expensive.

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