Revolutions in Antennas and 5G Networks

In the world of antennas, high-frequency radio and data traffic, work is proceeding at a pace on, among others, the introduction of 5G wireless networks in 2020. According to Satrax, a company based in Twente, the Netherlands, light is the answer to the increasing demand for higher data frequencies and bandwidths. The company develops antenna plates in which integrated photonic circuits play an essential role. But these chips are also leading to revolutionary developments in other fields.

Satrax Logo

In response to the increasing demand for high-frequency bandwidths, capable of transmitting large amounts of data in short times, light offers a better solution than electronics. Bringing radio signals into the optical domain via beamforming technologies, processing them and transforming them back into radio frequencies, no longer requires time-consuming, and power consuming high speed electronics. The processing could be sped up by a factor of 1,000 to 1 million when performed in the optical domain.


Free space optics

The networks and modules that make this possible today are based on free space optics and require bulky discrete components such as lasers, detectors, modulators and large glass-fibre cables. This results in a cumbersome, large and inefficient solution, which is also very expensive and therefore unattractive for mass production. For this reason Satrax has developed an optical chip-platform which includes tuneable delays, phase shifters and filters that are integrated through the use of CMOS manufacturing techniques. Satrax is able to confine light signals in optical ring resonators to achieve tuneable delays, which are key-functionalities to create a broadband beamforming modules for phased array antenna plates.

Integrated Microwave Photonics

Integrated Microwave Photonics makes it possible to incorporate those optical ring resonators on the optical chip. Not only is the functionality and robustness of the antenna improved but, at the same time, weight, costs and energy consumption are reduced. Independent of the desired frequency, Satrax can design larger or smaller directional antennas from several modules of individual antenna plates.

Demonstrating broadband reception

Satrax works with chip manufacturers SMART Photonics, which manufactures InP chips with lasers, modulators and detectors and LioniX who fabricates TriPleX™-chips with the optical beamforming network. This InP-TriPleX™-chip-platform ensures processing of light on a small scale without leading to large signal losses. The first prototypes were produced in 2006-2010, thanks to the support of the then government’s Point One programme, among others. The first optical chips were connected to an antenna in 2008 to demonstrate broadband reception for Radio Astronomy applications. All of the functions normally associated with the electronic domain are now possible by means of light.

Disruptive technology

This so-called disruptive technology of photonic integration, and particularly the combination of different chips to one integrated chip-platform, can be applied to various industries and used in a variety of applications. The chip can be integrated in data and telecoms applications, prototypes for satellite communication, antennas in the roofs of self-driving cars and in the next generation of (plate) antennas for base stations which enable high capacity and dynamic coverage for mobile communication. Furthermore, light reflections also provide images of surroundings in relation to objects, distances and differences in speed. Here light, LiDAR, is used as alternative for radar.


Aviation, space and medical applications

The development of photonic beamforming technology is also of interest to the aviation and space sector. In 2014 Satrax participated in an ESA satellite communication project with Airbus Defence & Space. A satellite currently serves an entire continent with a single beam for the whole of Europe, for example. The new technology makes it possible for multiple, independent, signal beams to be transmitted to various European countries at the same time. Frequencies can be re-used: the beam-forming chip was designed to handle up to 36 bundles simultaneously. Moreover, the size and weight of the beamforming module was more than 1000 times smaller than the currently used conventional technology of RF waveguides. Furthermore, the technology has possible applications in MRI scanners where beamforming is also applied. The optical chip would make the scanner much smaller (and therefore more patient-friendly), would speed up the processing of data and would allow the generation of greater amounts of more complex data.

Securing communications through quantum cryptography

The developments towards on-chip integration and miniaturization proved itself extremely useful in the field of securing the communication and information through computers and phones. This field of expertise is also known as quantum cryptography. The discovery of quantum entanglement via the time bin of quanta enables the marriage between single-photon optical communications and cryptography. This discovery enables secure, long-distance communication thanks to the fact that photonic entanglement is now been demonstrated on a chip small enough to fit inside a computer.

A true breakthrough

According to Satrax we are on the verge of a breakthrough in photonic solutions which can be manufactured in TriPleX™ technology due to fundamental advantages of its material properties. The technology is evolving enables communication systems’ bandwidths and frequencies to become higher and higher. Ultimately, light offers the only solution to these requirements and to the increasing demand for more secure, faster, more complex and more reliable data. SATRAX has proven that the optical InP-TriPleX-platform is a solution for all these requirements and is committed to deliver the right integrated modules to these different application markets.

         Finding the holy grail of security

  • Phones and computers took a step closer to greater security thanks to a photonic chip able to communicate information more securely and small enough to fit inside most computers. A research team in Sydney, developed a chip for the process of photonic entanglement. Considered the holy grail of secure, long-distance communication, photonic entanglement has never before been demonstrated on a chip small enough to fit inside a computer. Photonic entanglement links the quantum states of photons, even when they are sent separately to distant locations. Changes made to one photon result in corresponding changes to its partner photon due to their entanglement. This makes it possible to send quantum information without disclosing it to other parties during communication, making transmissions secure.


Source: Satrax,

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