Non-linear (large signal) Millimetre-wave Devices, Circuits and Systems On-Wafer Characterization Facility

Lead Research Organisation: CARDIFF UNIVERSITY
Department Name: Sch of Engineering


Mobile telephones and the communications they enable have now become an essential part of our everyday lives. The number of people using mobile technologies, which was practically unused 20 years ago, is astonishing: Unique mobile subscribers have recently exceeded 5 billion, and more than 3 billion people have subscribed to mobile broadband services. The pervasiveness of this technology means that future societies will be built with telecommunications at their heart, with visionary concepts such as Smart-Cities relying on the rapid exchange of information for the optimisation of available resources and the improvement of people's lives. For this reason, 5th generation (5G) of mobile networks will be much more than just an evolution of the previous mobile generations. While maintaining the role of connecting devices, such as mobile telephones, with more than ten times the current data rate, 5G will also provide a platform to underpin a large number of services, including the connection of billions of sensors and devices in the Internet of Things, Smart Grid control, autonomous driving, and remote health care.
This paradigm change in mobile telecommunications can only happen if supported by viable and fundamental enabling technologies. In particular, the use of communications in the millimetre-wave (mm-wave) spectrum has been identified as the technology of choice to support the demand in higher data-rates. For this reason, mm-wave technology, which in the past has always been considered as niche, is now becoming a mass-market technology ($8.69B by 2025, source:Grand View Research), with a huge revenue potential and with a clear strategic role in the future of the telecom market. Moreover, the drive from the telecommunications market to make mm-wave technology affordable, will also benefit other mm-wave applications, such as radar and imaging systems that have important consequences on other strategic markets (military and aerospace).
To enable the overall high-performance mm-wave electronics for these applications and markets in terms of energy consumption, size and cost, it is crucial to optimise circuits at a single device (transistor) level. This is very difficult to achieve when devices are operating in non-linear regimes, where the usual design approximations simply fail. Source and load-pull measurements are the de-facto standard method of characterising high frequency devices working non-linearly. The experimental data can be used directly in the design of key, high-frequency components such as high-efficiency power amplifiers, in the verification and development of design kit models, to assess the improvement, reliability and repeatability of new device technologies, and to derive and verify new theoretical design concepts.
The Centre for High Frequency Engineering at Cardiff University is a world leader in large-signal characterisation and modelling of high-frequency devices. This position has been achieved thanks to the development of novel concepts such as waveform engineering and state-of-the-art load-pull and waveform measurement systems that have provided trusted experimental data, enabling timely research and support to industry. This world-leading position is however now at risk due to the frequency limitations of the current experimental setup available.
This proposal outlines the need for a new source/load-pull capability for mm-wave on-wafer characterisation that will extend measurement capabilities at Cardiff up to 110 GHz. The flexible configuration proposed will be unique, and will guarantee significant competitive advantage to Cardiff, UK Universities and UK industry. It will also bolster the international profile of UK research, by attracting collaborations with the world's best scientists.
The system will be promoted among Cardiff partners and to other institutions and companies to perform cutting-edge collaborative research, as well as to external users who desire a pure measurement service.

Planned Impact

The research enabled by the new equipment will benefit the UK industry and society, as well the international development of vital technologies, with an impact seen across all of the 4 key areas of Knowledge, Society, Economy and People.

The experimental data obtained will act as a strong foundation on which a vibrant research activity can be built to increase scientific Knowledge and the development of new approaches in the area Microwave and millimetre wave (mm-wave) technologies. The Knowledge generated will benefit the design of telecom, radar, imaging systems for several applications as wireless, mobile communications, airspace, military, and healthcare; with improved range, efficiency, reliability and sustainability. To facilitate the exploitation of these research results the strong infrastructure for the translation of research built in South Wales and UK around the Compound Semiconductor (CS) Cluster, CS Connect, will be fully exploited. In particular, the CS Centre and the CS Catapult both are specifically designed to develop a supply chain for innovative new technologies that will use the new equipment during their conception, development and optimization.

Moreover, the UK industry will have a privileged path to access the system for measurement services, guaranteeing a clear competitive advantage with respect to international competitor; thanks to this world first system. This will benefit UK Economy, specifically through the industry that produce high frequency systems for important and strategic markets (as telecom infrastructure and military), as well as small design houses that need reliable and affordable experimental results to maintain their competitiveness. At the same time, the Semiconductor providers that have chosen and will choose the UK and South Wales as their base of operation will be able to access the system without the need of disclosing their technology to foreign institutions, providing again an important Economic advantage.

High frequency technologies are already having a profound effect on our Society and how it communicates and functions; mobile phones a clear example. Imminent technologies like 5G, autonomous cars and e-Health, underpinning the revolutionary changes toward Smart Communities and an always connected Society, will rely heavily on millimetre-waves, and maintaining a leading position in the global shift to higher frequencies will clearly be important for future Economic prosperity. The experimental data that new equipment will provide will be also key in developing systems with minimum energy consumption. Given the increasing pervasiveness of wireless technologies, this will have a great impact on improving the environmental sustainability of these technologies; towards a green Society.

The People involved in the research projects and in the measurements activities will benefit greatly from this investment. They will be trained to use a state-of-the-art facility acquiring specialized skills that will be of great benefit to their career perspectives. Moreover, we will be able to attract top scientists from around the world to use the system in collaboration, with the potential for them to join by the growing community of specialized workers in South Wales.
To conclude, the investment in this new equipment will have an immediate impact on knowledge and economy, and in the longer term will add to these benefits a positive impact on society and people.


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Description Innovate UK project Optime PA 
Organisation Filtronic
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Support a speculative design project by providing unique measurement results and analysis insight.
Collaborator Contribution Helped demonstrate the important role this unique measurement capability can play in design at mm-wave frequencies.
Impact Presently covered by NDA.
Start Year 2023