Collin Arocho
3 December 2020

Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE) has announced a new method to enhance the rollout of 5G. The method, which was investigated by PhD candidate Álvaro Morales Vicente, uses laser beams to achieve a higher frequency spectrum of 30-300 GHz, known as millimeter waves. While the current standard of 2.4 and 5 GHz can achieve data rates around 1 gigabit per second, utilizing the mm-wave spectrum will improve data rates by a factor of 10. This acceleration of data speeds is a focal point for the next-gen 5G network, unlocking the doors to a host of applications like smart industries and self-driving cars.

Photonic chip, fabricated by Lionix, that steers the radiation direction of mm-wave radio signals for high-speed wireless communications. Credit: Javier Pérez Santacruz

Laser light has a much higher frequency than radio waves. Combining two laser beams with slightly different ‘colors’ leads to a periodic variation in light intensity caused by interference. That difference frequency can then be converted to a radio signal with the use of a light detector. The next step for Morales Vicente was to steer the light beams to get the signal from point A to point B. For this, he has utilized an optical chip, again using signal interference – similar to using a row of traditional antennas, each with a slightly different delay.

Optical generation of millimeter waves is energy-efficient and flexible. However, the technology is still in its infancy. “The major challenge is to combine all the necessary steps in a handy device,” says Morales Vicente to TUE news outlet Cursor. “That includes generating a signal with the right frequency, modulating this to store data in it and steering the millimeter waves in a specific direction to deliver said data.”