IMEC launches 6G communications research program

November 23, 2020 // By Peter Clarke
IMEC launches 6G communications research program
European research body IMEC (Leuven, Belgium) has launched an initiative for next-generation mobile communications.

Dubbed ‘Advanced RF’, the pre-competitive research initiative is set to focus on creating a roadmap for devices, systems and networks beyond 5G.

Amongst other things the program will look at the use of hybrid ICs made using III-V and CMOS semiconductors to achieve very high bandwidths at carrier frequencies above 100GHz with energy efficiency. As is usual with IMEC programs it will seek multiple partners to fund and participate in the work and together produce prototypes to show the potential of various circuits and systems.

"There is still some discussion on 6G's exact characteristics and performance specs, as the actual standardization effort has yet to start," said Michael Peeters, vice-president of imec’s R&D activities in the connectivity domain, in a statement. "What is clear, though, is that next-generation wireless networks will largely outsmart their predecessors. Projected features include a 100 Gbit/s single-link throughput, microsecond latency and a significantly higher energy efficiency – less than 1 nanojoule per bit."

"We believe this will be crucial to enable concepts such as federated learning between artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled autonomous systems such as self-driving cars. Other use-cases include the deployment of very high-speed, ultra-reliable mobile hot spots in dense urban centers, the support of immersive augmented reality (AR) applications and holography," he added.

Silicon lacks the ability to transmit at the desired rates and energy efficiency, hence the need to add compound semiconductor circuits.

"New III-V materials – such as indium phosphide (InP) – might offer a way out, but do not yet lend themselves to be integrated onto a silicon platform. Hence, we will specifically look into hybrid III-V/CMOS approaches. We will investigate how III-V materials can heterogeneously be combined with CMOS technology, how those materials perform in terms of reliability, which degradation mechanisms are at work, etc. Building on those insights, we aim to create mobile device technology that efficiently and cost-effectively operates at 100GHz and beyond,” said Nadine Collaert, program director for IMEC's analog/RF activities.

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