Light-based chip breakthrough that ushers in 6G era

Scientists have made a breakthrough in a light-based prototype chip that can accommodate high radio frequency bandwidth which could be used for next-generation technologies including 6G.

It’s said that by combining photonic and electronic components, a prototype communication chip can be made that can have enough frequency bandwidth for uses such as radar and 6G.

The possibility is mentioned in research published on November 20 in Nature Communications which offers an insight into communication chips for advanced radar, satellite systems, 6G, 7G, and next-gen WiFi technologies.   

The researchers demonstrated remarkably improved radio frequency bandwidth with improved signal accuracy at high frequencies. This involved incorporating light-based components into regular electronic-based circuit boards. They created a prototype of the networking chip measuring 5 by 5 millimeters sourcing a silicon wafer and attaching the electronic and photonic components. Noticeably, they also improved how the chips filtered data. Also read: WiFi 7: The Next-Gen Wireless Standard Key Highlights

Wireless transceivers send data while microwave filter signals. Microwave photonics has the same function for light-based signals. The challenge is combining photonic and electronic components, and microwave photonics filters into one chip.

The researchers fine-tuned the components at high bands which was able to transmit more information accurately. Now, this is important for future wireless technologies as they would be depending on extremely high frequencies as most currently used frequencies will crowd the air hence loss of quality and efficiency. Also noteworthy is that these high frequencies have shorter wavelengths and carry huge amounts of information with huge bandwidth.

“Microwave photonic filters play a crucial role in modern communication and radar applications, offering the flexibility to precisely filter different frequencies, reducing electromagnetic interference and enhancing signal quality,” said research team leader Ben Eggleton who is a pro-vice-chancellor at the University of Sydney.

Read next: US, India to work together on 6G and ORAN

light-based semiconductor chips will help elevate 6G performance in the future

As stated above already, frequency and coverage have an inverse relationship, however, higher frequencies can carry significantly more data. Newer technologies seem to adopt higher frequencies as they can offer more bandwidth prowess. See 5G and 6G for example. Telcos use low-band 5G under 1 GHz, mid-band, and high-band up to 5300 MHz. Check out: 5G Spectrum Bands: What Do High, Mid, and Low Bands Mean?

Higher frequencies have more bandwidth capacity as they have greater energy ability of the shorter wavelength, but it’s suspicious to chances of interferences and obstruction. That’s because shorter spectrums can penetrate through physical objects such as walls, trees, and buildings which greatly reduces their coverage strength.

frequency wavelength
The illustration shows the wavelength of low-band, mid-band, and high-band frequencies

5G despite promising gigabits of speed lags due to the very reasons. In the US, the average 5G speed starts around 138 Mbps not too bad compared to 4G but the hype around 5G speed was abysmal. Most carrier providers use 2 to 4 GHz band frequencies. 6G which is expected to launch and even commercialize at the end of 2030 uses terahertz frequencies. However, use cases such as industry, space, AI, VR, etc. might require it to use up to 100 GHz frequencies to deliver about 1,000 Gbps speed. China has achieved 206.25 Gbps in 6G and developments are likely to up the number in coming years.

This requires gear makers to build semiconductor chips with extremely high RF bandwidth and highly modern filtering solutions to eradicate interference at high frequencies. This is why light-based semiconductor chips will come into play to propel 6G performance.

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