A team at UC Irvine has invented a new, wireless transceiver that pushes beyond even recently deployed 5G cell phone technology.
Fifth generation builds upon its predecessors, which improved the functionality of the modern smartphone. The technology is designed to increase internet speeds, reduce network latency — the time that it takes for a request to pass from browser to server — and the ability to connect many devices without a reduction in speed.
The latest generation is currently being tested in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis by Verizon and the other major carriers plan to follow suit.
But the developers at UCI said their 4.4 millimeter silicon chip can go beyond 5G by going backward from digital into analog.
Current high-speed transmitters and receivers in telecommunication are dependent on power-hungry digital signal processing according to Payam Heydari, senior author and professor of electrical engineering and computer science.
“Everything is done in the digital, and then it was about two [and-a-half] years ago that I questioned this very important, but fundamental thought,” he said. “Namely, is it good, always, to do everything in digital?”
Heydari said he and a former student, Peyman Nazari, developed a transmitter in December 2016. Heydari credits Hossein Mohammadnezhad, a postdoctoral researcher, and Huan Wang, a doctoral student in the electrical engineering and computer science, for taking his and his former student’s initial ideas to the next level.
Development on the “Beyond 5G” chip began in October 2017.
Heydari explained that every transmitter and receiver used in smart phones and tablets is comprised of three main parts: a radio-frequency and analog part delivering or receiving wireless signals to and from antennas; a mixed-signal part that converts analog signals to digital or vice versa; and a digital part.
“What we did is that we designed novel transmitter and receiver architectures based on a ground-breaking idea that significantly reduced the complexity and power dissipation of the mixed-signal and digital parts,” he said.
He also said the team found that current transmitters and receivers used in cell phones and WiFi systems will not be sufficient for future applications that are beyond 5G.
Mohammadnezhad said that data traffic increases by 40% annually and that for every six years, there is about seven times more traffic. Estimates put new generations of cellular networks at the turn of every decade — experts expect the first real wave of 5G-capable smartphones will not roll out until 2020.
The transceiver, Heydari explained, addresses constant demands from wireless users by accessing greater bandwidth in order to increase download and upload speeds.
In March, the Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules to encourage development of new telecommunications technology operating above 95-gigahertz. The transceiver the UCI researchers invented operates at frequencies above 100 GHz.
By comparison, the 5G wireless standard is expected to operate between 28 and 38 GHz.
Mohammadnezhad said the higher frequency ranges allow for motion-activated applications like communicating with a cell phone or adjusting the volume of a stereo without touching it.
“You could do lots of interesting stuff ... like highly intensive communication,” Heydari said. “For example, let’s assume there’s a surgeon that would like to perform a surgery, not on-site, but off-site. Then, he or she needs to have access to real-time data and high-quality data to the point that the whole surgery can be done wirelessly [or] remotely. In these kind of content-intensive applications ... being able to exchange data seamlessly and very fast is very crucial.”
Contrary to current devices, the “Beyond 5G” transceiver does not need a “very power-hungry, analog-to-digital or digital-to-analog” converter. This allows for the transceiver to operate at a significantly higher speed but with decreased power consumption.
The market for the transmitter and receiver, the team said, is the wireless phones, but the technology can be applied to other emerging ideas, such as self-driving cars.
The team has four pending patents at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Heydari expects another two to possibly be filed by the end of this year.
One possibility is the ability to grow networks without fiberoptic cable.
“We don’t have to dig into the ground to put the cable,” Heydari said."We can totally replace it with reliable wireless communication.”
Other developers and researchers are looking into technology beyond 5G. By the UCI team’s most conservative estimates, they expect 6G — or whatever it ends up being called, they joked — to emerge in 2030.