Laying the Foundation for UAE’s Advanced Communications Infrastructure


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Masdar Institute has launched two research centers aimed at accelerating development of the UAE’s communications infrastructure and preparing the country for the next generation of wireless communications networks, known as 5G wireless.

The newly established Center of Excellence on Integrated Photonics and Center of Excellence on Radio Frequency/5G Communications – which were developed in collaboration with the Semiconductor Research Center (SRC) and GLOBALFOUNDRIES – aim to conduct research and development (R&D) of the key technologies needed to make faster, smoother and more reliable data transmission a reality. Such technologies will be critical to transforming UAE’s cities into connected, smart and sustainable urban centers where tremendous amounts of data will be generated and transferred every second.

“5G technologies will support the development of truly smart cities, as the explosion of data that will need to be transferred between people, cars, buildings and other infrastructure will require extremely fast and diverse data traffic that our current fourth generation (4G) networks cannot accommodate. Integrated photonics is an essential part of the semiconductor industry roadmap to support the next generation of data centers that increasingly rely on the transfer of massive amounts of data but at high efficiency and low cost,” explained Dr. Steve Griffiths, Vice President for Research and Interim Associate Provost, Masdar Institute.

“Masdar Institute developed these new centers of excellence to not only ensure that the UAE will be in a position to capitalize on photonics and emerging 5G networks, but to also put the UAE at the forefront of the semiconductor industry technology roadmap through collaboration with our industry partner GLOBALFOUNDRIES.”

5G technologies and photonics promise to increase data rates from millions to tens of billions of bits per second, or up to 10 gigabits per second – which is over 100 times faster than the rate available from current 4G wireless technologies. This faster speed, coupled with much greater bandwidth – which refers to the amount of information that can be carried through a network – will open up new capabilities, like the ability to download a high-definition (HD) movie in seconds and add billions of internet-connected devices to the network. Most importantly, this rapid internet speed and ultra-low latency (or lag time) will enable the development of the Internet-of-Things (IoT) systems that are at the heart of smart cities.

The smart cities of the future – which aim to improve efficiency through capabilities like monitoring traffic congestion, pollution levels, parking levels, and energy consumption and feeding that information to a smart car or smart device in real time – depend on a robust information ecosystem that can transfer significant amounts of data almost instantly, which requires a high-speed data transmission infrastructure.

However, in order for the full potential of a 5G wireless network to be realized, more research and development of the key technologies that underlie an advanced communications network – particularly in the fields of radio frequency (RF) transceivers and photonics – is required. The Masdar Institute Centers of Excellence have been established in response to this need for innovative, low-cost enabling technologies that will accelerate the development and deployment of key semiconductor technologies needed to support a high-speed data transmission infrastructure both regionally and globally.

Masdar Institute Associate Professors of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Dr. Mihai Sanduleanu and Dr. Mahmoud Rasras will be heading the two centers. They believe the centers’ pioneering 5G and photonics-focused research will result in the development of valuable human and intellectual capital that could provide the base for a new sector in the form of 5G-capable integrated circuits and photonics in the UAE.  

Center Of Excellence on RF/5G Communications

The research being conducted through the Center of Excellence on RF/5G Communications will focus on the development of transceivers equipped with integrated circuits embedded with hundreds of antennas capable of high-speed data transfer at the bandwidth frequencies being opened up for 5G networks, which include the 28 GHz, 38 GHz and 73-76 GHz radio frequency bands.

5G will occupy higher frequency bands – which is the group of radio frequencies that data is transmitted on – because these higher bands are not crowded like that of 4G frequency bands, ranging from 1GHz to 5GHz. Moreover, due to larger bandwidth existence at higher frequencies, 5G can move information at a much faster speed.

However, while higher frequencies can carry data faster, they don’t travel as far as lower frequencies. The communication range is around 200 meters. To increase the distance that data can travel on higher frequencies, and throughput, or the amount of data that can be transmitted, engineers have developed a technology called multiple input and output (MIMO) antennas to boost signals.

MIMO antennas employ multiple antennas on both transmitter and receiver, creating many paths for data to leave one transceiver and arrive at the other. Advanced signal processing technologies can distinguish between the various paths that data can travel on between the two communication pairs.

A key goal of the MI Center of Excellence on RF/5G Communications is to increase the number of MIMO antennas and develop solutions for increased throughput and low latency. The integrated circuits developed at Masdar Institute and GLOBALFOUNDRIES will be found in devices like smartphones and in the base stations.

“The work we are doing is groundbreaking in the region. We are planning to design and demonstrate new integrated circuits and techniques with ultra-low power transceivers that will enable the proliferation of 5G technologies around the world, while providing the UAE with the intellectual capital to fuel the country’s semiconductor industry,” Dr. Sanduleanu remarked.

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