IMEC Hits New Peak In Its Timeline of Ultra-wideband Innovations

June 14, 2023 by Jake Hertz

IMEC’s history of developing UWB hardware continues with its transmitter-receiver solution.

Ultra-wideband (UWB) technology is an emerging technology commonly found in use cases that require high-precision localization. UWB features high transmission speed, high accuracy, and low power consumption, making it a popular choice in asset tracking across complex spaces and environments.


UWB versus other localization technologies

UWB versus other localization technologies. Image courtesy of Kinexon


One company that has consistently pioneered UWB hardware is IMEC, which has innovated several record-setting UWB transmitters and transceivers. Last week, IMEC continued its momentum by demonstrating another UWB prototype with a high ranging accuracy and low power consumption. In this article, we’ll review the timeline of IMEC’s UWB innovations leading up to its most recent transmitter and receiver hybrid solution


2021: World First Sub-5 mW UWB Transmitter

In 2021, IMEC publicly showcased the world’s first sub-5 mW, IEEE 802.15.4z UWB transmitter IC. Built on a 28 nm CMOS process, the impulse-radio ultra-wideband transmitter (IR-UWB) owed its low power to a digital polar transmitter architecture and an integrated injection-locked ring oscillator (ILRO), which allowed the transmitter to rapidly switch from on and off in between packet bursts to save power.

The chip employed an asynchronous, pulse-shaping design that shaped transmission in the 3-10 GHz range to meet compliance standards while performing close to maximum power spectral dentistry allowances.

The transmitter was said to offer a balance between conventional UWB solutions while also still achieving ultra-low power consumption. Specifically, the chip achieved a power consumption of 4.9 mW in standard operating modes while still meeting UWB’s spectral emission regulations. According to IMEC, this represented the first time that a sub-5 mW IR-UWB chip was compliant with the IEEE 802.15.4z standard.


2022: IR-UWB Solution Under 10 mW

Following its 2021 successes, IMEC made more UWB headlines in 2022 with the presentation of a low-power, high-data-rate UWB offering.

This new offering built off the 2021 demonstration and resulted in an IR-UWB solution under 10 mW with a data rate of 1.66 Gb/s. According to IMEC, this data rate was 50x faster than anything possible in the IEEE 802.15.4z standard and simultaneously had an energy efficiency of 5.8 pJ/b—an order of magnitude better than Wi-Fi.


Imec’s 2022 chip

IMEC’s 2022 chip. Image courtesy of IMEC


The 2022 chip was said to achieve the combination of high data rate and low power thanks to a complex modulation scheme based on all-digital phase-locked loops (ADPLLs) and digitally-controlled power amplifiers. IMEC also credits these data specs to the solution's energy-efficient, low-jitter ring oscillators.


2023: Transmitter-Receiver Hybrid Reaches New Feats

Last week, IMEC continued its UWB momentum with yet another new IR-UWB product. This time, however, the device acts as both a transmitter and receiver solution. Built on a 28 nm CMOS process, the chip is 3Rx-1Tx transceiver compliant with the 6- to 9-GHz IEEE 802.15.4z standard. The solution is said to achieve a ranging precision as low as 1.4 mm but only consumes 8.7 mW and 21 mW in continuous Tx/Rx mode, respectively.


Imec’s newest UWB solution

IMEC's newest UWB solution. Image courtesy of IMEC


The chip reaches this combination of power and performance thanks to a low-power, highly-optimized Rx architecture along with a digital polar transmitter architecture. Additionally, the chip employs a two-stage ADPLL and a finite impulse response (FIR)-based transmitter pre-emphasis for advanced pulse shaping capabilities.