IBM makes millimeter wave chip for better radar and mobile backhaul

Written on:May 31, 2013
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Like a few startups, Samsung and the cellular industry, IBM is concerned about the looming spectrum shortage. So it has built a millimeter wave radio chip to take advantage of higher frequencies. With a lot of work and engineering these frequencies might provide more mobile backhaul at gigabit speeds as well as offer better radar for pilots.

IBM’s breakthrough is an integrated circuit that offers the components and antennas for a radio chip. From the IBM release:

The packaged transceiver operates at frequencies in the range of 90-94GHz and is implemented as a unit tile, integrating four phased array ICs 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.

The chip is made using a specialized process on Silicon Geranium, so it’s not exactly mass market at the moment, although IBM also has created a smaller 90-nanometer SiGe chip that it plans to announce as well. That will reduce the size and power consumption of the newer chips.

But before you get too excited about the new chip (although feel free to be somewhat excited) know that millimeter wave broadband, while fast, has significant limitations. It’s power hungry, can’t go very far because the signals deteriorate when they encounter oxygen atoms and the equipment is expensive. IBM’s also pitching the technology to help improve radar on airplanes.

IBM will debut the new IC at the IEEE Radio Frequency Integrated Circuit Symposium in Seattle, next Tuesday.

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