Communication ‘Breakthroughs’ Make Waves in the Wireless Industry
From the smallest LTE-M/NB-IoT module to the fastest 5G uplink speed record, several companies have recently taken to the news to claim an important feat in wireless technology.
The wireless industry is undoubtedly a place of rapid innovation, particularly when it comes to hardware. This past couple months have seen a number of key players in the wireless hardware industry announce new, important feats in the industry. From minuscule RF modules to large-scale 6G tests, below is a roundup of some recent ways telecom drivers are expanding communication access and slashing latency.
NTT's newly-developed 300-GHz band phased-array transmitter and a transmission test setup. Image used courtesy of Business Wire/NTT
U-blox Unveils Smallest LTE-M and NB-IoT Module Yet
The first piece of news comes from U-blox, which recently announced the launch of a new wireless module customized for size-constrained applications like small asset trackers.
A rendering of the LEXI-R422. Image used courtesy of U-blox
The new product, called the U-blox LEXI-R4, is designed to offer support for all LTE-M and NB-IoT bands and offers an RF output power of 23 dBm. Some notable features of the module include antenna dynamic tuning, jamming detection, secure boot, and support for ultra-low power deep sleep modes down to 3 uA at 3.8 V. Additionally, U-blox claims that the hardware can fall back onto a 2G network in areas where conventional LTE-M/NB-IoT coverage is not optimal. This ensures some degree of coverage in most locations.
The device was designed specifically to provide wireless connectivity for applications where space is at a premium. These applications might include pet and personal trackers, micro-mobility devices, luggage tags, alarm systems, vending machines, and stolen vehicle recovery. To this end, the LEXI-R4 comes in a 16 mm x 16 mm x 2.0 mm 133-pin LGA package. This size, in addition to a weight of less than 1.5 g, makes the device 40% smaller than comparable u-blox offerings.
NTT’s 300-GHz Band High-speed Data Transmission
Moving from commercialized products to the realm of research and development, NTT Corporation announced that it successfully demonstrated the world’s first beamforming in the 300-GHz band.
NTT launched this research to prepare for the ultra-high-speed wireless communications anticipated with the advent of 6G. Notably, 6G will use the 300-GHz band, which offers advantages in speed but has severe downsides in terms of attenuation and path loss. The researchers sought to develop a beamforming solution in the 300-GHz band to help concentrate radio energy and counteract the effects of attenuation.
The layout of the 300-GHz band phased-array transmitter and the chip. Image used courtesy of NTT Corporation
To do this, the team developed a specialized indium phosphide IC (InP-IC) that integrates a power amplifier and antenna circuit. Using these InP-ICs, the team created a four-element phased-array transmitter module on a single PCB. The resulting module has a steering range of 36°, a maximum data rate of 30 Gbps, and a communication distance of 50 cm.
With this module, the team successfully demonstrated the beamforming of 300-GHz signals, which they believe will be necessary to unlock the potential of 6G wireless.
Ericsson and MediaTek Reach a 5G Upload Speed Milestone
According to a Ericsson Mobility Report, by 2028, 5G is projected to account for almost 80% of all fixed wireless access (FWA) connections. These FWA points would greatly benefit from combining uplink single-user MIMO (SU-MIMO) with Uplink Carrier Aggregation technology in the Frequency Range 1 spectrum—the most commonly-deployed 5G spectrum globally.
To this end, Ericcson and Mediatek recently collaborated to set an industry uplink speed record. With the aim of easing output power constraints and simplifying the placement of extra RF components for FWA devices, Ericsson contributed expertise on its uplink SU-MIMO and Uplink Carrier Aggregation technologies, while MediaTek provided its MediaTek T830 CPE platform.
The MediaTek T830. Image used courtesy of MediaTek
The hardware platform, which consists of three Tx antennas and a 2.2-GHz Arm Corrtex-A55 quad-core processor, is nominally rated for upload speeds of 2.5 Gbps. With this hardware, the team combined a 2.1-GHz frequency division duplex (FDD) band with a 3.5-GHz time division duplex (TDD) band. In doing so, the team achieved an uplink throughput of 565 Mbps—a new industry record, according to both companies.
According to Ericcson and Mediatek, the breakthrough has big implications in a world where uploading data to the internet is as important as downloading it. With the ability to achieve greater uplink speeds, applications like fixed wireless access should benefit tremendously.