Ubiquitous Broadband Communications

April 10, 2020

The drive to develop better ways to access and exchange information and data and make advances in communications often coincides with other technological advancements. The growth in IoT is placing huge demands on wireless connectivity and consumers are demanding inexpensive and fast communication regardless of geographic location.

When we talk about internet access today, it’s difficult to do so without referring to wireless networking. The imminent large-scale rollout of 5G is expected to change everything. There is every reason to believe it will be massively disruptive in delivering faster internet access and increased capacity, as well as presenting the opportunity to extend the IoT. However, it is important to appreciate that cellular isn’t the only wireless networking technology set to have a big impact on the status quo.

Satellites for many years have been used to bounce broadband signals around the globe.  In the past, however, the satellite market was well serviced by a small number of companies.  With the emergence of “NewSpace”, we are seeing growth in the private space industry. Companies are deploying low earth orbit (LEO) satellite networks to deliver commercial internet access services to even the remotest locations. This has the potential to revolutionize the lives of billions of people.

This growth puts additional pressure to enable easier and lower-cost access to satellite networks.  Smaller, lower-cost and lower-power terminals are needed, and this means we need lower-profile antennas. Coupled with the demand for higher frequencies and the benefits of nanometer CMOS, phased-array antenna systems are becoming increasingly more practical.

Equally fundamental is the way phased array antennas are managed. In basic terms, a phased array or steerable antenna focuses its energy in a certain direction, rather than transmitting omnidirectionally as a conventional antenna does. Not only does this support the improvement of the cost per-bit of the overall system, but it allows an antenna to communicate more directly with a client. Through digital beamforming, it is possible for a single array to communicate with many clients seemingly simultaneously, using every part of the spectrum available to it, or aggregate more of the spectrum to temporarily increase the bandwidth to a specific client as needed. It is this principle that will enable ultra-high download speeds across multiple clients per base station, gateway or access point.

While the principle is sound, to implement a solution using the traditional analog approach does not deliver all possible benefits.  In addition, linear scaling to support multiple beams can become difficult in terms of system performance, power and cost, as well as physical space. In a digital phase array system, however, it is possible to support many more beams, scaling in a more sustainable way.  A digital approach employs multiple radio and analog-to-digital converter (ADC) chains combined with digital signal processing (DSP).

Adesto’s proven technology, based on CMOS processes, can support mmWave operation that enables having tens, hundreds and thousands of elements per actively steered/scanned antenna in a cost-effective way while mitigating any power dissipation concerns. We have radios operating in the Ku and Ka band that perform comparably to more expensive SiGe-based solutions, with the added benefit of being able to integrate the digital aspects of the system on a single chip. This includes ADCs that are optimized to be part of an array. With technology that can be digitally calibrated Adesto’s customers can develop cost-effective RF ICs optimized to operate from sub-10GHz up to 31GHz and beyond.

Adesto is making this IP accessible to manufacturers looking to develop a custom IC. This will enable wireless broadband access to flourish and bring the internet to every part of the global population.  The future is bright for custom silicon and the opportunities that our customers can develop with mmWave CMOS custom chip.

Read a case study about a custom ASIC developed by Adesto from a recent customer in the Satellite communications space.

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