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Arctic Semiconductor’s Marzieh Veyseh on 5G Functional Integration

Arctic Semiconductor’s Marzieh Veyseh on 5G Functional Integration

by Dr. Marzieh Veyseh, CPO/CTO and Co-Founder, Arctic Semiconductor

MPD: How would you best describe Arctic’s core mission?

MV: In a nutshell, we’re dedicated to creating RF/mixed-signal transceivers that are high performance and reduce power consumption and cost, while allowing customers to use the same hardware with only minor changes made in software to serve multiple applications. Our products, called IceWings and SnowWings, operate at frequencies from 600 MHz to 7.2 GHz, which covers the vast majority of 4G, 5G, Wi-Fi 6 and 7 frequency allocations. So, whether you’re developing user devices or radios for macro base stations, small cells, fixed wireless access, or any other application in this frequency range, a single device can serve one or all of them.

That’s a big difference from what has traditionally been the case when OEMs had to cobble together analog and digital devices from different vendors to achieve their solutions. This is a challenging approach from a designer’s perspective, an expensive one for the customer, and makes it difficult to achieve the highest possible RF performance and efficiency. However, when all these functions are integrated into a single device, efficiency can be increased dramatically, power consumption can be reduced by up to 70%, and the bill of materials drops as well.

MPD: What are the differences between the products you mentioned, IceWings and SnowWings?

MV: IceWings is a zero-IF transceiver with four transmit and receive channels designed for systems that require an analog IQ interface. It has a programmable instantaneous bandwidth of up to 400 MHz that can be adjusted to meet the user’s requirements, consumes less than 1 W, and uses our patented IP to create functions such as low-noise amplifiers, analog mixers, and programmable baseband filters. It supports any network operating between 600 MHz and 7.2 GHz.

In contrast, while SnowWings operates in the same frequency range and serves the same applications as IceWings, it uses a direct RF sampling receiver architecture and high IF transmitter architecture. It consists of a 3 GS/s ADC and 4GS/s DAC that eliminates required calibration for IQ imbalance and LO leakage. It also includes digital filters and digital upconversion and downconversion after the ADC and before the DAC.

It digitizes the analog RF signal directly at the antenna, downconverts it if necessary, and sends the result to a baseband processor, which reconverts the signal to analog form for retransmission. Sub-sampling is performed in the second or third Nyquist zones with an ADC sampling rate below the Nyquist rate. It also uses digital pre-distortion (DPD) to minimize nonlinearities inherent in RF power amplifiers to optimize ACLR and EVM performance.

MPD: Tell me about hardware intelligent circuits (HIC)

MV: HIC, combined with software calibration and digital correction, can optimize the performance of low-power mixed-signal circuits, allowing calibration and digital correction to be performed in the digital domain. Rather than increasing area and power consumption to reduce noise and increase linearity, HIC technology optimizes performance by using digital signals to provide feedback and close the loop to correct analog circuit performance.

MPD. What are your thoughts on using millimeter-wave frequencies in the coming years?

MV: When 3GPP released the first 5G specifications in 2019, they included the most comprehensive features since cellular systems were first announced in 1983. One of the most forward-looking was the inclusion of millimeter-wave frequencies, orders of magnitude higher than previous generations, primarily used only in scientific and a few defense applications.

As your readers surely know, designing and fabricating devices and subsystems for these frequencies is difficult and expensive, and propagation is line-of-light over short distances. So, it should be no surprise that six years later, the highest frequencies that have been deployed are in the 39 GHz range, not for cellular, where mobility is crucial, but in fixed-wireless access applications.

That being said, enormous amounts of bandwidth are available at higher millimeter-wave frequencies, and they’ll be required for the applications promised for 6G, which will likely emerge by the end of the decade at the earliest. Consequently, we’ve focused our efforts at frequencies up to 7 GHz, where most applications are today, as our technology delivers very wide instantaneous bandwidths, high efficiency, and low power consumption without the obstacles inherent at millimeter-wave frequencies.

MPD: Are you announcing any additional products soon?

MV: This month, we introduced SilverWings, the first 4×4 low-power transceiver offering multi-stage up- and down-conversion from digital to RF and RF to digital. SilverWings integrates analog and digital conversion methodologies into a single transceiver. It also paves the way for broader applications and is just the beginning of our vision for advanced precision, high-speed data converters.

 On the receiver end, it features an RF gain stage, facilitating high-speed AGC to counter interference, and digital predistortion (DPD) is incorporated on the transmit side to mitigate external power amplifier nonlinearities. SilverWings reduces power consumption by more than 60% compared with other offerings in the market while also integrating RF gain with gain control within both the receive and transmit paths.