Microchips are embedded in every minute of our day, and next are networks of interconnected chips that will make the Internet of Things possible.
More than 100 years ago, one could already hear in La Verbena de la Paloma by maestro Bretón that “Today the sciences anticipate that it is outrageous”. And it continues to be undeniably topical, so much so that we could sing “Without chips I am nothing” to the sound of the chords of Amaral . In recent decades, the prodigious chips have burst onto the soundtrack of our lives, serving as the heart of the devices through which we get information, work, entertain ourselves and interact with other people.
The mathematics of love: “If you give me a like…”
Social networks are an example of this: “Neither with you nor without a tweet”. WhatsApp is the most used instant messaging application in the world. In Spain it is used by 97% of young people and 87% of those over 65 years of age. Come on, he has no age. Every day around 5 billion emojis are sent, almost one for every inhabitant of the planet. The Tinder application, with 50 million users, is present in 196 countries. Through Tinder, more than 26 million dates are made based on an algorithm that tries to predict like-minded people and gives each profile a secret score based on a series of variables, including the likes it receives. It is the mathematics of love: “If you give me a like , I’ll leave everything.”
This year we will be more than 5 billion Internet users worldwide with data traffic equivalent to downloading 40,000 movies every second. And an important part of this data is exchanged between machines, without the intervention of any human being, in processes called M2M ( machine to machine , or machine to machine). Microchips are the basis for all of this to happen.
Fly me to the moon, and let me play among the stars
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the new communication paradigm that includes the interconnectivity between objects (from sensors and mechanical devices to everyday objects such as the refrigerator, footwear or clothing). This generates a huge field of potential applications such as industry 4.0, precision agriculture, autonomous cars, smart cities, wearables (sensor devices incorporated into clothing) or home automation, among many others . The house of the future is already here: refrigerators that do the shopping, toothbrushes that notify us of the annual inspection… “Thanks to 5G , which has given me so much.” This technological trend is going to be unstoppable. The physical world merges with the digital world and we can ask it for anything: Fly me to the moon … let them take us to the moon!
Networks of interconnected microchips to make way for 5G
In order to extend connectivity to an infinite number of objects, there are many challenges that must be addressed at different levels. An important component to enable the IoT is the technology used for the exchange of information between various devices, that is, the communication networks.
This hyper-connected world will be possible thanks to the fifth generation of mobile networks or 5G. One of the applications is fixed wireless access that takes advantage of mobile networks. The system makes it possible to offer Internet services with large data capacity and speeds of gigabits per second. Fiber optics will no longer be the only option to download data at high speed without losing capacity and with latency times of milliseconds . We will be able to talk about navigation in almost real time, something especially important, for example, in autonomous cars, since minimizing their response time improves safety.
5G technology seeks to take advantage of an area of the electromagnetic spectrum beyond current Wi-Fi and mobile phone frequencies, at tens of gigahertz. This generates faster speeds and more bandwidth, solving the problem of saturation of the current radio spectrum. The reduction in coverage area due to the lower range of these waves will be offset by a massive deployment of smart surface antennas . These antennas will be integrated into the environment to minimize the visual impact.
Smart antennas and beamformer chips
Antenna arrays play a very important role in the improvements introduced in the deployment of the incipient 5G networks and in the experimental 6G , as well as in satellite communications (SATCOM).
Among the main advantages of using antenna arrays are the possibility of directing the radiation pattern electronically, without mechanical parts, in microseconds, and the possibility of generating multiple radiation beams. This is achieved by electronically controlling the phase of the received or emitted signal in each of the radiating elements that make up the matrix, so that the interference of the field radiated by each of the individual antennas has the maximum or minimum in the desired positions. , in what are known as beamformer chips.
The control electronics are inserted in the radiating part, achieving less reception losses and less power required in transmission, generating a more fault-tolerant structure with low visual impact . But this is not easy to achieve with millimeter wave signals due to the small sizes and spacing between radiating elements. The use of a large number of small chips (up to 64) distributed over the surface of the antenna achieves flat antennas the size of a tablet . The development of this type of antenna will be key for new mass applications in 5G technology and future 6G applications to be competitive.
Concepción Aldea Chagoyen , Professor of Electronics, University of Zaragoza ; Carlos Sanchez Azqueta , Professor of Physics, University of Zaragoza and Santiago Celma Pueyo , Professor of Electronics, University of Zaragoza