Frequencies being allocated for 5G services are more than 10 times higher than those used for current mobile services, requiring the use of different antenna designs.
A two-year collaboration between scientists at IBM Research and Ericsson has led to the creation of a compact silicon-based millimetre-wave phased array integrated circuit operating at 28GHz that has been demonstrated in a phased array antenna module designed for use in future 5G base stations – the first of its kind.
The module consists of four monolithic integrated circuits and 64 dual-polarised antennas, yet is only seven centimetres square. The small size is needed to allow dense deployment.
And, by using concurrent dual polarisation, one antenna module can form two beams simultaneously, doubling the number of users to be served at the same time.
"The development of this 5G millimetre wave phased array is an important breakthrough, not just because of its compact size and low cost, which make it a very commercially attractive solution for network equipment companies and operators, but its potential to unleash and inspire brand new ideas and innovations we haven't yet imagined, thanks to a fully networked society," said IBM Research vice-president of science and solutions Dario Gil.
5G has yet to be standardised, but it is expected to support data rates exceeding 10Gbps in certain scenarios, while reducing energy requirements – battery life of 10 years has been mooted for remote IoT devices connected via 5G networks.
According to IBM, the phased array could also have applications in millimetre-wave radar, for example to allow vehicles to “see through” fog or rain, or for accurately measuring the distances of objects.