At the Imec Technology Forum (ITF) Southeast Asia in Singapore, imec presented two key building blocks with record low power consumption, developed for 5G. The first is a fast and extremely compact successive approximation analog-to-digital converter (SAR ADC), designed for consumer electronics operating below 6 GHz, such as mobile phones. Secondly, imec developed a 60 GHz front-end with RF phase shifting and on-chip transmit/receive switching, which is targeting fixed wireless access and small cell backhaul applications. These building blocks are available to interested companies, either by joining imec’s industrial affiliation program or through IP licensing.

Compared to current 4G standards, 5G mobile networks promise massive connectivity through much higher data rates, lower latency and lower battery consumption. To realize this potential, new system architectures below 6 GHz and millimeter wave spectrum are being explored to achieve multi-Gbps speeds with low latency.


For smartphone applications below 6 GHz, imec developed a compact, low cost, low power and high speed (300 MSPS) ADC that meets the requirements of multimode and multiband 5G communication. The ADC is a SAR with a reduced core area of only 350 µm x 325 µm and fabricated in 16 nm CMOS. It achieves a low dynamic power consumption of only 3.6 mW at 300 MSPS, and the low frequency signal-to-noise and distortion ratio (SNDR) is 70.2 dB at 204 MSPS.

60 GHz Front-End

Imec's compact, energy efficient and low cost 60 GHz front-end IC features 8-way calibration-free beamforming at RF, to support a large number of antennas, which makes the technology attractive for fixed wireless access and small cell backhaul. The on-chip transmit/receive switching enables sharing the antenna array between transmit and receive modes. The 9.6 mm2 IC is fabricated in 28 nm CMOS and consumes 231 mW in receive and 508 mW in transmit with a 0.9 V supply.

Wim Van Thillo, program director for perceptive systems at imec, said “Imec is developing novel IP building blocks for 5G, operating below 6 GHz as well as in the 60 GHz frequency band, Our portfolio includes record-breaking ADCs, reconfigurable low noise frequency synthesizers, millimeter wave phased array transceivers, antenna modules and more. These building blocks show state-of-the art performance, excel in low power operation and are low cost, by leveraging scaled CMOS technologies. They give our partners a unique advantage in realizing their next-generation SoC for 5G wireless communication.”

imec's results were presented at ITF Southeast Asia, held September 6 in Singapore, one of imec’s leading high-tech events that offers an exclusive research and innovation perspective on emerging opportunities in nanoelectronics and digital technologies.