Development a novel phased array antenna technology for millimetre wave 5G applications
Future 5G networks will offer significantly higher data rates through increased channel bandwidths to meet growing demand for new mobile and internet of things (IoT) applications and high-resolution multimedia user experiences. Whilst initial commercial 5G networks will operate within spectrum that is either already in use by current cellular systems or new spectrum in similar frequencies, the huge potential of 5G will only be realised when systems start to use the mmWave bands at much higher frequencies. Such solutions could utilise huge throughputs but the trade-off is shorter distances and far more unpredictable and demanding propagation characteristics. Sophisticated antenna arrays are therefore required for mmWave 5G applications as the 5G market rapidly evolves towards commercial roll out over the next 3-5 years. Phased array antennas use electronic circuits to change the phase of the radio signal to a multiplicity of antennas to steer the radio signal in a specific direction. Conventional phased array antennas use active semiconductor components to steer the radio signal. The high cost of semiconductor components, and the complexity and high-power consumption are the primary impediments to their deployment in large-scale commercial applications.
This project aims to develop an advanced phased array antenna for mmWave 5G applications, integrating Sofant’s highly-innovative, radio frequency microelectromechanical system (RF MEMS) technology and a custom-built controller circuit. In collaboration with GarField/Matrics, this project will help Sofant to develop key components required for fully integrated antenna/RF MEMS designs. When compared to current semiconductor designs, the RF MEMS device is much cheaper per square mm to manufacture, uses less than half the area and fewer radio components, thereby reducing the overall antenna cost by up to 50, creating a significant opportunity for Sofant and contributing to the UK’s economy over the next 5 years through the export-led growth of a leading-edge technology SME in the highly competitive global mmWave 5G market.
A scalable development platform and supply chain will be established for high volume production to generate economies of scale and drive down costs to support wide market adoption. New knowledge gained during this project will help Sofant and GarField/Matrics to develop the next level of control circuits for integrating the devices into much larger mmWave antenna arrays for future 5G infrastructure applications.
RF MEMS based Ka Band Phased Array Antenna Prototype RF MEMS based Ka Band Phased Array Antenna Prototype
Funded by European Space Agency
The Sofant sub-array is primarily targeted at Value Added Manufacturers (VAM’s) who would integrate many Sofant sub-arrays into their Satellite Terminal (up to 256/per terminal). Sofant is also talking to multiple Satellite Operators and exploring additional opportunities for the technology.
The key needs we trying to address are:
- Low Power Consumption
- Compact size/low profile
- Low cost
- Wide scan angle range for some applications
- These requirements are balanced against the need to achieve G/T and EIRP requirements to ensure acceptable quality of service
The solution is targeted at two of the major satellite operators, both whose satellites have a global reach, both are European headquartered. Target VAM partners are located in the UK, but the end customers will be worldwide.
Funded by European Commission
SWARM (Software driven Smart Antenna powered by RF MEMS Technology ) is an HORIZON 2020 project financed by the EU Commission under the call H2020-SMEINST-2-2015. The project costs are EUR 2,817,658.75 with an EU grant of EUR 1,972,361.13. Sofant’s disruptive SmartAntenna innovation is based on a patent-protected programmable RF MEMS (Radio Frequency – Micro Electro Mechanical System). This results in significant energy usage reduction and doubling of battery life within the mobile device while, at the same time, achieving best signal strength consistency through a focused link to the transmission mast. Battery life and connectivity are key problems for the rapidly growing global mobile device market.