As 5G hits the market, fresh U.S. Army-funded studies have developed a radio-frequency switch that’s over 50 times more energy efficient than what is used now.
The 5G revolution has begun, and the first lines of mobiles 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 element that will more efficiently allow access to the highest 5G frequencies in a way that raises devices’ battery life, also speeds up features like streaming of 4K video.
Smartphones are filled with switches that perform several responsibilities. Present radio-frequency (RF) switches that do this job are always running, consuming precious battery life, and processing power.
“The change we have developed is more than 50 times more energy efficient in comparison to what is used today,” explained Deji Akinwande, a professor at the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering who headed the research. “It can transmit an HDTV stream in a 100 gigahertz frequency, and that’s unheard of in broadband switch technology”
Akinwande and his research team published their findings this week in the journal Nature Electronics.
“It is now clear that the present switches consume substantial amounts of power,” explained Akinwande. “And that power absorbed is futile electricity.”
The new switches remain off, saving battery life for other processes unless they are actively helping a device jump between networks. They also have shown the ability to transmit data nicely over the baseline for 5G-level speeds.
Prior researchers have found success on the low end of the 5G spectrum — where rates are slower but data can travel longer distances. However, this is actually the first switch that can operate across the spectrum in the low-end gigahertz (GHz) frequencies to luxury terahertz (THz) frequencies that could someday be key to the evolution of 6G.
The new switches are based on a nanomaterial called hexagonal boron nitride (hBN), which comes from precisely the same family as graphene.
The effects of these switches could extend past smartphones and to many distinct technologies. Satellite systems, smart radios, reconfigurable communications, the Internet of Things (IoT), and defense engineering are examples of additional possible applications.
“Radio-frequency broadcasts are pervasive in military communication, connectivity, and radar systems,” explained Dr. Pani Varanasi, Materials Science Division Chief at the U.S. Army Research Office, part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Control, which helped finance the project. “These new switches could offer a huge performance advantage compared to existing elements and can enable longer battery life for mobile communication, and advanced reconfigurable systems”
This study spun out of a previous project that created the thinnest memory device ever produced, using the same nanomaterial. Akinwande said patrons invited his team to discover different applications for hBN, which led them to pivot to RF switches.