New 5G switches mean battery life improvements, higher bandwidth and speeds

New 5G switch provides 50 times more energy efficiency than currently existsWith US Army funding, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Lille in France develop a radio-frequency switch that is more than 50 times more energy efficient that what is used today. Credit: University of Texas
The 5G revolution has begun, and the first lines of phones that can access the next generation of wireless speeds have already hit the shelves. Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Lille in France have built a new component that will more efficiently allow access to the highest 5G frequencies in a way that increases devices' battery life and speeds up how quickly we can do things like stream high-definition media.
Smartphones are loaded with switches that perform a number of duties. One major task is jumping between networks and spectrum frequencies: 4G, Wi-Fi, LTE, Bluetooth, etc. The current radio-frequency (RF) switches that perform this task are always running, consuming precious 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."

Renewable energy investments are cost effective. The International Renewable Energy Agency released a new policy brief showing that renewable energy has become the most cost-effective way to generate electricity for hundreds of millions of people worldwide who are not on the grid. Read more here.

Akinwande and his research team published their findings today in the journal Nature Electronics. "It has become clear that the existing switches consume significant amounts of power," Akinwande said. "And that power consumed is useless power."

The new switches stay off, saving battery life for other processes, unless they are actively helping a device jump between networks. They have also shown the ability to transmit data well above the baseline for 5G-level speeds.

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has for years pushed for the development of "near-zero-power" RF switches. Prior researchers have found success on the low end of the 5G spectrum—where speeds are slower but data can travel longer distances. But, this is the first switch that can function across the spectrum from the low-end gigahertz (GHz) frequencies to high-end terahertz (THz) frequencies that could someday be key to the development of 6G.

The UT team's switches use the nanomaterial hexagonal boron nitrite (hBN). It is an emerging nanomaterial from the same family as graphene, the so-called wonder material. The structure of the switch involves a single layer of boron and nitrogen atoms in a honeycomb pattern, which Akinwande said is almost 1 million times thinner than human hair, sandwiched between a pair of gold electrodes.

The impact of these switches extends beyond smartphones. Satellite systems, smart radios, reconfigurable communications, the "internet of things" and defense technology are all examples of other potential uses for the switches.

"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."

Keeping current with electric vehicles. Odds are you don't find yourself sitting in traffic next to an electric vehicle (EV) very frequently, but that may soon change. According to a recent report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, global sales from EVs are expected to grow from 1.1 million in 2017 to 11 million in 2025, rising to 30 million in 2025. Furthermore, the forecast states: "By 2040, 55% of all new car sales and 33% of the global fleet will be electric." Although Tesla is often the first mentioned when talk around the water cooler turns to EVs, plenty of traditional automakers are charged up about them as well. For example, General Motors announced last October its intent to launch at least 20 new all-electric vehicles by 2023 as it drives toward a future where it intends to solely produce zero-emission, all-electric vehicles. Volkswagen AG, moreover, also aspires to satisfy the growing demand for EVs; the company plans on offering customers electric versions of all the models in its portfolio by 2030.

This research spun out of a previous project that created the thinnest memory device ever producedalso using hBN. Akinwande said sponsors encouraged the researchers to find other uses for the material, and that led them to pivot to RF switches.

The UT team includes electrical and computer engineering professor Jack Lee and graduate students Myungsoo Kim, Ruijing Ge and Xiaohan Wu. They worked with researchers at the University of Lille's Institute of Electronics, Microelectronics and Nanotechnology, led by Emiliano Pallecchi and Henri Happy.

Explore further

Ultra-thin memory storage device paves way for more powerful computing

More information: Myungsoo Kim et al, Analogue switches made from boron nitride monolayers for application in 5G and terahertz communication systems, Nature Electronics (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41928-020-0416-x

Journal information: Nature Electronics

Provided by University of Texas at Austin

Citation: New 5G switches mean battery life improvements, higher bandwidth and speeds (2020, May 26) retrieved 2 June 2020 from https://techxplore.com/news/2020-05-5g-battery-life-higher-bandwidth.html

And Europe and North Africa could run on 100% renewable energy by 2050.

This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.