5G Switches Introduced by the University of Texas Claim Improved Battery Life and Processing Speeds

May 31, 2020 by Luke James

Although COVID-19 has caused a slowdown, the 5G revolution is still well underway with the first pioneer devices capable of accessing next-generation wireless speeds already on shelves worldwide.

Accessing these speeds is not a simple task, however. There is a requirement for device manufacturers to optimize their designs and components so that they not only achieve high speeds but do so efficiently and in a way that is not a substantial drain on battery life. This is easier said than done.

Now, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Lille in France have built a new component—a 5G switch—that reportedly facilitates more efficient access to high-speed 5G frequencies in a way that increases battery life and speeds up 5G applications such as high-definition media streaming.

The joint team’s research was published in Nature Electronics on May 25 and describes their development—an analog switch made from boron nitride monolayers. 


50 Times More Energy Efficient

Smartphones regularly switch between different networks and spectrum frequencies like Wi-Fi, 4G, LTE, Bluetooth, and more. This switching is currently handled by radio frequency (RF) switches that are constantly running and consuming processing power and battery life. 

"The switch we have developed is more than 50 times more energy efficient compared to what is used today," said Deji Akinwande, a professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering who led the research. "It can transmit an HDTV stream at a 100 gigahertz frequency, and that is unheard of in broadband switch technology."

The Texas-Lille team’s switches stay off, saving battery life for other processes and demands, unless the device needs them to switch between networks. They are also said to be capable of transmitting data above the baseline for 5G-level speeds.

It uses the nanomaterial hexagonal boron nitrite (hBN) that comes from the same family as graphene and involves a single layer of boron and nitrogen atoms in a honeycomb pattern that is sandwiched between a pair of gold electrodes. 


Diagram of switch showing two gold electrodes.

A diagram of the University of Texas at Austin team's switch, showing two gold electrodes and a layer of hBN in between them. Image credited to the University of Texas

A Significant Area of Research

The research into developing the new 5G switch, which was funded from the Army Research Office, an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory, is the latest in a series of efforts that previously found success on the low end of the 5G spectrum, where speeds are lower but data can travel longer distances.

This is the first switch that is able to function across the spectrum from the low-end gigahertz to the high-end terahertz frequencies and could have a huge impact on applications beyond smartphones such as satellite systems, smart radios, the IoT, and reconfigurable communications. 

"Radio-frequency switches are pervasive in military communication, connectivity and radar systems," said Dr. Pani Varanasi, division chief of the materials science program at the Army Research Office, an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command's Army Research Laboratory that helped fund the project.

"These new switches could provide large performance advantage compared to existing components and can enable longer battery life for mobile communication, and advanced reconfigurable systems."