Keeping Wireless Comms On Track Toward 4G

Research partners IMEC, Renesas Technology, and M4S, a fabless semiconductor startup that spun out of IMEC in 2007, have developed a single-chip RF transceiver for the cellular market. Interestingly, this complete transceiver with RF, baseband, and data converter circuits was produced in 40-nm low-power CMOS. Furthermore, this reconfigurable device is compatible with various wireless standards and applications, including the forthcoming mobile broadband Long-Term Evolution (LTE) standard from the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).

There is a clear trend in wireless communications as terminals are providing users with access to a multitude of services. In turn, this is driving the development of reconfigurable radio technology in deep-submicron CMOS. This trend is further encouraged with the advent of LTE, a standard that is inherently so flexible that reconfigurable radio is its most economical implementation.

LTE will enable much higher speeds along with much lower packet latency. Additionally, it will allow cellular communication services to progress and meet demand through 2017. Many network operators have not yet upgraded their 3G networks, and many industry experts see LTE as a very sensible technical step forward. In effect, the transceiver will enable operators to jump from 3G capabilities straight to LTE, which will provide operational capabilities until the full launch of the full 4G standards.

The transceiver provides application advantages relative to that transition. It has a flexible design, with an integrated analog-to-digital converter (ADC) and software configurability across all channels between 100 MHz and 6 GHz. Other technical features such as its RF carrier frequency, channel bandwidth, noise figure, linearity, and filter characteristics can be adapted to the requirements of the communication standard that is used as well.

Also, the transceiver combines high sensitivities with low phase noise and high linearity. This is important because these technical attributes can be traded for lower power consumption depending on the needs of a particular standard. Further, its flexible transmitter reaches low out-of-band noise, targeting SAW-less (surface acoustic wave) LTE operation. The device integrates this multi-standard programmability in an extremely small chip area of only 5 mm2 while achieving state-of-the-art performance and power consumption for each covered standard.

In the next phase of in what IMEC describes as its “green radio” research program, the focus will be on further bill of materials and energy consumption reductions by continuing the research on digitally enabled SAW-less transceivers and power-efficient transmitters. 

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