Arctic Semiconductor’s Hot Goal: The “Most Energy Efficient 5G RF ICs”
Shipping analog circuits with built-in smarts, Arctic Semiconductor’s first 5G RF chipset offers the best of both worlds in its mixed-signal RF IC.
Putting its own spin on 5G products, Arctic Semiconductor (formerly SiTune Corporation) has shipped its first 5G RF chipset named IceWings. As 5G and its applications become more mainstream, programmable and dynamic RF circuits are paramount to addressing the myriad of uses for 5G. Aiming to develop “the most energy efficient 5G RF IC solutions on the market,” Arctic Semiconductor’s latest offering comes with distinct differences from traditional RF circuits.
IceWings, the newly shipped chip from Arctic Semiconductor, boasts powerful performance without sacrificing power efficiency. Image used courtesy of Arctic Semiconductor
As of 2022, telecommunications and IT consume around 7% of the world’s electricity supply, with this number expected to continue rising with the adoption of 5G and dense wireless networks. With this in mind, Arctic’s IceWings, along with its second major offering SnowWings, stand to offer unprecedented advantages to designers needing improved power efficiency and performance.
This article delves into the technology behind Arctic’s 5G offerings, with a closer look at the company's patented hardware intelligent circuits (HIC) that distinguishes its products from its competitors.
IceWings and the Takeoff of 5G
At the core of Arctic’s 5G lineup is the IceWings family, which operates from 600 MHz to 7.2 GHz and enables 5G, Wi-Fi 6/7, and LTE operation with a single chip. IceWings is a zero-IF (ZIF) transceiver, requiring only a single mixer per receive chain, making it extremely power and size efficient compared to heterodyne architectures.
A comparison of transceiver architectures highlights the benefits and drawbacks of ZIF systems. When compared to heterodyne receivers, the size, weight, and power of the system may be improved by using direct conversion. Image used courtesy of Analog Devices
If even fewer mixers are required, the SnowWings family offers the same frequency span but with a unique direct-sampling architecture that allows digital RF sampling with no down conversion. As is normally the case with a switch from analog to digital, the SnowWings family boasts efficiency improvements of up to 80%, giving designers more flexibility for edge applications where power efficiency is critical.
Since 5G tech is expected to be limited primarily by attenuation, a massive rollout for 5G requires an extremely dense network of 5G cells. In this regard, the power and performance improvements offered by Arctic may be well-received in small cells, fixed wireless access points, or even enterprise-level networks.
What Are Hardware Intelligent Circuits?
One especially intriguing technology (on which Arctic has revealed little) is the company's hardware intelligent circuits (HICs). To support 5G's dense network architecture, components must not only work well but also in a variety of environments.
Arctic’s programmable RF circuits include small cells as a target application, where power efficiency and performance are critical to successful adoption. Image used courtesy of Arctic Semiconductor
To address this problem, Arctic has developed its HIC technology. HICs rely on a mixed-signal layout that allows calibration and digital correction in the digital domain to impact the high-performing RF circuits in the analog domain. In this sense, uncontrollable changes such as process variations or antenna performance can be acknowledged on a per-device basis and allow maximum performance without requiring a large analog device.
A New Perspective on 5G Tech
As is usual with new products, it’s difficult to determine where exactly in the still-forming 5G ecosystem Arctic’s products will land. However, the reported performance improvements combined with the innovation of HIC technology make Arctic Semiconductor a good candidate for designers looking to squeeze the most efficiency out of their products.
It will be interesting to see if the connection between digital correction and analog operation will open the doors to optimized AI or ML performance. Regardless, with the shipment of the first IceWings products, the evidence will soon show Arctic's impact on the communications industry.