A universal photonic chip, the key piece in 5G connectivity

Published by Telefónica IoT Team IoT General

It was a matter of time. The decline of 4G is already beginning to take shape on the horizon, while the technologies that will mark the "age" of 5G are emerging. This series of solutions will allow us to launch telecommunications farther than ever before in a context in which the Internet of Things in an intelligent and interconnected world will be the banner of technology. But in order to reach that point, revolutionary devices are needed.

Photonic chips in a 5G world

In order to lay the foundations of 5G in a technologically efficient world, we still have to overcome several important challenges. The interconnection between the wireless and photonic segments of communication networks is one of them. The technical characteristics, which include the need to reduce chips and adapt the frequency at which the receivers and emitters of the devices work, determine the course that these technologies will follow. To solve some of these challenges, relatively new ideas have been put forth, such as photonic chips. These devices have been on the laboratory table of several universities for some years now, but they haven’t seemed like a perfect fit for this job until now.

Developed with standard techniques used to manufacture semiconductors, photonic chips use photons and their quantum properties to perform the tasks for which they are used. That has several consequences, such as increased performance, better computing capacity and smaller size. But, as mentioned above, the use of photonic chips also poses challenges that have to be accepted and overcome. For example, their applications require a higher frequency, so the size of the antennas and associated circuits has to be reduced. With the growth in capacity demand, the presence of a universal chip is the perfect solution to ensure communication between the different segments of the networks.

Universal and scalable

The UMWP-Chip is a project in progress at the Institute of Telecommunications and Multimedia Applications of the Universitat Politècnica de València; its researcher, José Capmany, was recently awarded an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council to develop the chip. As he explained, it will be an interface chip as small and compact as possible which can support the current and future frequency bands predicted in 5G. Some of the most interesting properties of this chip will be its scalability and flexibility, which will allow it to be used in various types and ranges of devices related to the IoT.

This UMWP-Chip, Capmany told the press, will have totally novel features, and it will be universal and programmable. In addition, the chip will be made almost entirely of silicon, including indium phosphide, a limiting material whose bandgap and high electronic speed properties make it essential in the construction of high-speed optoelectronic devices (such as photonic chips). In short, a chip like the UMWP, which will be developed over the next five years, will solve many of the challenges associated with implementing 5G solutions.



Chips like the UMWP have immediate consequences in the improvement of everyday technologies, especially in an increasingly interconnected world. Because of their small size and large capacity, these chips expand and improve the way in which devices such as wearables communicate, a sector that requires small sizes in order to design the actual elements. But it also needs a strong ability to transmit and manage information efficiently to avoid bottlenecks that saturate communication. Another important factor is that it should be able to use technologies associated with 5G and 4G, since the transition will not be instantaneous. These photonic chips are able to solve this problem much more easily than the chips available today.

Their presence would also help to solve some of the challenges of autonomous driving. The applications associated with smart cars require radar-type radiolocation systems that allow the vehicle to be positioned in order to drive safely... and to do this, they collect the data by radio and later process them. The role of photonic chips such as the UMWP revolves around receiving and collecting this large amount of information, so it can subsequently be processed. This technology can also be applied to all types of logistics systems and means of transport, expanding the range of technological solutions and means of telecommunication that can be used. Clearly, then, photonic chips are one of the most promising applications in implementing 5G for almost any type of use, so they are shaping up to be an excellent companion to the world of the Internet of Things.


Telefónica IoT Team