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June 07, 2013

Small Cells and Radar Imaging by IBM

Small cells are the frame on which we are draping new, high-speed communications technology. In a way, more of a necessity than anything else, small cells serve to offload heavy data from cellular networks and are therefore responsible for keeping the dreaded situation of “spectrum crunch” at bay. In other words, if we didn’t have small cells, we’d be all out of airspace.

IBM on Tuesday showcased its shiny, or should I say tiny, new small cell solution at the IEEE Radio Frequency Integrated Circuit Symposium in Seattle. Not many people would call something the size of a laptop “tiny,” it’s true, but considering what IBM’s new integrated circuits (ICs) are capable of in terms of communication relay, it’s pretty apt.

The IBM solution is a phased array transceiver that operates between the millimeter-wave and baseband bandwidth and contains all of the necessary components to not just take on backhaul, but also advanced-resolution radar imaging. With this new IC small cell infrastructure has a lot more strength to help push the mobile market into new areas of innovation.

It all comes down to the millimeter-wave, which is a 10- to 100-times higher frequency than what phones and Wi-Fi operate on. Thanks to its high frequency wavelength, the signal used by the new transceiver can penetrate objects, leading to increased reliability in radar imaging. Normal roadblocks faced by aircraft like weather and debris won’t be an issue in navigation when considering possible applications that the IBM solution opens up.

But technologies like this that promise innovation in mobile markets and additional applications in vertical industries need to meet other needs, and that’s when the size of the IC comes into play. Due to its phased-array design, the IC is not only small, but scalable too. This is of major important considering this solution is going to need to serve city landscapes when we’re talking about the backhaul it will be handling.

"It is a key step toward phased-array systems of the future that are scalable, low-volume, light-weight, and low-cost,” says IBM Research’s Dr. Alberto Valdes-Garcia. And that’s the key to it all. The versatility and range of the IC are great on their own, but are nothing if not also affordable and able to be implemented in a way that can make them accessible. As always, before the future comes to us it needs to be affordable.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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