Ultra-wideband transmitter chip pushes data rates up to 1.66Gb/s

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At this year’s International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), imec presented an impulse-radio ultra-wideband (IR-UWB) transmitter chip that it said could help to redefine the future of UWB technology.

Fabricated in 28nm CMOS and occupying an area of just 0.155mm², imec’s IR-UWB chip has a power consumption of less than 10mW) and was able to accommodate data transfer rates of 1.66Gb/s. This is 50 times the speed supported by the current UWB standard. The chip’s performance strengthens researchers’ belief that UWB is capable of expanding beyond its typical ‘accurate and secure ranging’ use cases.

At present, ultra-wideband communication technology is commonly used to support applications such as secure keyless entry for automotive and hospitality, and asset tracking. However, experts have been claiming for some time that UWB’s potential could be significantly greater.

“Based on this firm belief, we continue to push the boundaries of UWB”, said Christian Bachmann, programme director of UWB at imec. “It has led us to investigate whether the technology is effectively capable of supporting low-power, higher bitrate applications, which in turn has resulted in the development of a brand-new ultra-wideband transmitter chip.”

To achieve higher data transfer rates, the chip leverages more complex (and even combined) modulation schemes that build on imec’s expertise in developing all-digital phase-locked loops (ADPLLs) and digitally-controlled power amplifiers. To enable those hybrid impulse modulation schemes at the lowest possible footprint, researchers have developed a highly energy efficient and low jitter ring oscillator in combination with a low-power polar transmitter.

These promising results go a long way to prove that UWB is capable of supporting a wide range of new applications that combine the need for high data transfer rates at short distances with very low energy consumption, and a small form factor.

“A matching use case includes the next generation of smart glasses to enable immersive AR/VR experiences”, Bachmann said. “And neuroscientific research could benefit from these new insights as well, powering high bitrate and miniaturized wireless telemetry modules for intracortical sensing purposes. In each of these cases, UWB could become a strong contender to Wi-Fi technology – as the latter typically comes with a much larger footprint and more complexity.”Further research and standardisation efforts are now required to mature this technology and so the world can reap its benefits. To this end, imec welcomes partners to join its UWB R&D program and extensive partner network.