Nieke Roos
15 September 2021

A Flemish consortium is going to roll out a field trial for high-speed wireless internet access to homes and businesses in 2022. It will validate the performance of the mm-wave chip and phased-array antenna technology developed by Imec spinoff Pharrowtech and further establish the 60 GHz band for outdoor fixed wireless broadband access for tier-1 service providers. The consortium is supported by the Flemish Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (VLAIO) and includes ISP Telenet and wireless equipment maker Unitron.

Demand for ultrafast broadband (> 1 Gb/s) is increasing, but optical fiber technology has proven to be both prohibitively expensive and logistically cumbersome to deploy in suburban, rural and even certain urban locations, leaving many areas underserved. The field trial’s primary focus is to unleash the potential of next-generation broadband via mm-wave fixed wireless access (FWA). FWA networks provide residential properties and businesses with gigabit internet access through a wireless connection, with a total cost of ownership at a fraction of fiber’s. The globally available, unlicensed spectrum around 60 GHz allows the cost-effective delivery of FWA with very high data rates and low latencies.

Pharrowtech demo
Credit: Pharrowtech

Spun out of Imec in 2018, Pharrowtech develops CMOS-based 60 GHz mm-wave RF technology, including RFIC semiconductors, phased-antenna arrays and software. Its carrier-grade solution is reliable and robust enough to cope with the outdoors environment. The VLAIO grant will be used to support preparation and execution for a Telenet field trial of this technology using Unitron’s network elements, as well as state-of-the-art beamforming and mesh control software developed by Imec’s research laboratories.

“This field trial perfectly represents the massive business opportunity that mm-wave FWA offers,” comments Pharrowtech CEO and co-founder Wim Van Thillo. “Even in areas as densely populated as Belgium, operators struggle to deploy gigabit internet services fast enough. This project will establish our technology as a key complement to fiber for fast and economical high-speed internet deployments everywhere.”

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“With this VLAIO project, Unitron will expand its knowledge in the higher frequency ranges and discover new wireless applications for ultrafast broadband communication. As a key technology partner for multiple telecom operators, our role is to provide the FWA customer and distribution node elements,” says Unitron CTO Stephen Deleu. Telenet’s Luk Bruynseels adds: “We have multiple use cases in scope where FWA brings opportunities and important benefits by reducing installation and roll-out costs.”