Movandi optimizes mmWave 5G front ends

Article By : Brian Santo

Sibling entrepreneurs are taking on Intel and Qualcomm with an RF front end that optimizes everything from the constituent parts to the manufacturing process.

Anyone who has visited the Movandi website already knew the high-profile startup was working on technology for high-frequency millimeter-wave (mmWave) bands. The company finally emerged from stealth mode, providing a few more particulars on its portfolio of products for 5G base stations and similar products.

The company expects its technology, branded as BeamX, will make it far easier and less expensive to create customer premise equipment (CPE) for 5G wireless networks and satellite communications systems.

Radio technology for wireless networks operating at 6 GHz and below is fairly well understood. Around the world, additional bands of spectrum have been set aside for 5G network use, including frequencies from 26 GHz to 40 GHz – millimeter wave bands.

Millimeter wave technology has been used mostly in military systems and is still bulky, expensive, and somewhat exotic, according to Maryam Rofougaran, co-CEO and COO of Movandi. For 5G applications, she said, “there is a lot of innovation that has to be done.”

Challenges include improving spectral efficiency in order to deliver gigabit data rates; incorporating beamforming and massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output); providing reliable coverage over a range of a few hundred meters; overcoming blockage and non-line-of-site issues; reducing size (especially antennas); and optimization for manufacturing, including board-level and package-level engineering, and modularizing antenna designs.

The company believes it has met most of those challenges. Its first products are for the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands, for both fixed wireless and 5G NR (new radio) networks.

Movandi said its technology is configurable to support different baseband/modem SoC configurations. That’s likely to include various types of CPE, small cells, and base stations. (No one is ready with components small enough for handsets; those will come later. Laptops are and tablets are likely to get 5G connectivity before 5G handsets appear.)

Movandi called its RF technology, which is rendered in a bulk CMOS process, “disruptive.” ICs for millimeter wave communications are typically manufactured using the less common biCMOS process using the slightly more exotic compound semiconductors such as silicon-germanium.

The company also boasts its antennas are a “high efficiency,” enabling a reduction in typical array sizes, though it provided few details. It has said that the antennas are modular. The basic module has a 16-element array, and modules can be larger in increments of 16 elements up to 64 (see photo below). Movandi claims to provide superior range even while using less power. Rofougaran said the company has developed advanced algorithms for beamforming, a fundamental performance characteristic new to commercial wireless networks with 5G (the technique is common in Wi-Fi routers).

Movandi will end up competing with Intel and Qualcomm, who have a bit of a head start in the field. The company claims its ICs, antenna, and modular approach are all innovative, but it expects to achieve a competitive advantage by optimizing the constituent elements of its system for maximum performance and efficiency, Rofougaran told EDN.

The company expects that its system-level approach will render better results than would be possible by integrating ICs, antennas, amplifiers, baseband interfaces, and other components from different suppliers.

“We get the high performance by optimizing the whole RF subsystem together. You don’t go and make the best RF IC and live with the crappy antenna,” Rofougaran said.

The company will demonstrate the technology at the upcoming Mobile World Congress Americas (Sept 12-14). Rofougaran said Movandi is using its original chips and antennas for the demo, but expects to start sampling optimized chips and antennas by the end of this year.

Movandi is notable not only because it is founded by a successful entrepreneurial team, but also because that team includes a pair of siblings. Maryam Rofougaran and her brother Reza founded Innovent Systems, which they sold to Broadcom in 2000 for $440 million. They remained with Broadcom until leaving about a year ago to found Movandi, where Reza is CTO.

Brian Santo has been writing about science and technology for over 30 years, covering cable networks, broadband, wireless, the Internet of things, T&M, semiconductors, consumer electronics, and more.

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