The NYU WIRELESS research centre has announced it will build an advanced programmable platform to design, prototype, and validate technologies vital for the millimetre wave (mmWave) radio spectrum, which is claimed to be potentially key to launching 5G.

Funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) programme that supports exploratory work on potentially transformative research, the platform will be one of the first of its kind available to researchers from academia, government, and industry that are driving the early stages of mmWave technology.

mmWave communication relies on highly directional transmissions in which energy is concentrated in narrow beams. Current mmWave prototyping systems use directional horn antennas mounted on mechanically rotatable gimbals. These mechanical systems are too large and slow for mobile applications. The new software-defined radio (SDR) platform will integrate an electrically steerable phased array with no physically moving parts and near-instantaneous steering. Equipment from SiBEAM will provide the RF front end for this testbed.

Sohrab Emami, chief architect at SiBEAM, said: “Only mmWave spectrum provides sufficient capacity to enable the applications envisaged for 5G services and that our electrically steerable phased array antenna technology is fundamental to delivering those services effectively.”

Equipment from National Instruments (NI) will provide a high bandwidth and massive baseband processing system to create mmWave prototypes capable of high data rates and very low latency.

James Kimery, director of RF research and SDR marketing at NI, said: “Our software-defined platform based on LabVIEW and PXI is ideal for researching and prototyping cutting-edge technology to achieve faster data rates in the mmWave spectrum.”

The mmWave frequencies above 10GHz are said to be a promising frontier in the quest to greatly expand the capacity in cellular and local area networks to accommodate the increased bandwidth needed in the future. The mmWave spectrum could provide 200 times the capacity of all of today’s cellular spectrum allocations, and 5G is projected to become more than 1000 times faster than 4G.

“The development of an open-source, powerful SDR platform will greatly speed the development of mmWave systems and allow academic and industry groups to bring design ideas to reality,” said Sundeep Rangan, NYU WIRELESS director. “This project was only possible by leveraging the expertise of companies such as NI and SiBEAM and with crucial support from NSF.”

The first version of the system will operate in the 60GHz band.