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Friday, 22 February 2008 13:18

NICTA's new chip promises true wireless revolution

A new Australian chip small enough to be embedded into home and office equipment promises wireless audio and video transfer at up to 5 gigabits per second, ten times faster than today’s solutions at only one-tenth the cost!

NICTA (National ICT Australia), an Australian research institute in the field of information and communications technology, has made a wireless networking breakthrough that promises to usher in the true, high speed, wireless revolution in the home and office that we’ve all been waiting for.

The new technology took three years to develop, includes a complete transmitter and receiver, and is the “world’s first transceiver integrated on a single chip”, operating at 60Ghz and using the most common – and inexpensive – semiconductor technology, CMOS.

NICTA Chief Technology Officer, Embedded Systems, Dr. Chris Nicol said the availability of a single chip, low cost, very high speed wireless technology will transform the home entertainment industry, making the high speed networking of office and home equipment - without wires – a reality at last.

In giving an example, Nicol said that: “Consumers will be able to download a high definition DVD onto their personal digital assistants at a public kiosk in seconds, take it home and play it directly onto their high definition TV.”

The technology breakthrough promises to “enable the wireless transfer of audio and video data at up to 5 gigabits per second, ten times the current maximum wireless transfer rate, at one-tenth the cost”.

NICTA Chief Executive Officer Dr. David Skellern said that: “Our team, which includes 10 PhD students from the University of Melbourne, has overcome some significant challenges in developing this breakthrough technology”.

Skellern continued that: “Developing very high frequency radio components in a standard CMOS process and then integrating those components on a single chip has posed challenges in dealing with the inherent limitations of that process for radio circuits”.

Skellern concluded with: “Now that NICTA researchers have successfully addressed these challenges, the ICT industry will soon have access to low cost, low power and high broadband chips that will be vital in enabling the digital economy of the future.”

So, how was the technology developed, which major technology companies worldwide helped in the R&D process, and what are some of the other technical details? Please read onto page 2.

NICTA say their research involved a “close collaboration with leaders in the global semiconductor industry”, with “the technology [being] developed using the IBM 130nm RF CMOS process”.

NICTA Gigabit Wireless Project Leader Professor Stan Skafidas said that: “Our collaborators IBM, Synopsys, Cadence, Anritsu, Agilent, Ansoft and SUSS MicroTec have been critical to our success and we are grateful to have had their valuable support”.

Skafias continued that: “Our innovative design methodology and access to leading design, test and measurement, and fabrication technology has allowed us to deliver this world-first success.”

NICTA researchers chose to develop this technology in the 57-64GHz unlicensed frequency band as the millimetre-wave range of the spectrum makes possible high component on-chip integration as well as allowing for the integration of very small high gain arrays.

“The availability of 7GHz of spectrum results in very high data rates, up to 5 gigabits per second to users within an indoor environment, usually within a range of 10 metres,” Professor Skafidas said.

The technology is expected to be commercially available within 3 years, although production samples are due by year’s end.

The chip is expected to cost AUD $10 per unit to manufacture, with approximately AUD $10 million needed to commercialise the process and set up a company, separate to NICTA, to promote and sell the technology to electronics manufacturers worldwide, with whom discussions have already begun.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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