Monday, December 28, 2009

Radios with Micromachined Resonators

An article in the December 2009 issue of IEEE Spectrum describes how precision micromachined mechanical components, especially resonators, can provide performance superior to that of electronic components for key functions in wireless handsets (e.g. cell phones).  Two valuable characteristics of such components are:
  • zero or very low consumption of battery power
  • very high Q in resonant circuits (e.g. > 10,000 at 1.5 GHz)
 Dr. Nguyen argues that electronic solutions, including software defined radio designs, are not likely to be practical for wireless handsets due to their requirements on battery power. He points to the presence, in today's cell phone designs, of certain electro-mechanical components:
  • thin-film bulk acoustic resonators (FBARs), 
  • surface acoustic-wave (SAW) resonators, and 
  • quartz crystals.
He predicts that future designs will incorporate MEMS components to overcome the challenges of purely electronic approaches to radio front ends. He reports that handset makers and DARPA are funding work in this area. For additional background on this work, with lots of nice illustrations and article links, visit Dr. Nguyen's web site which includes this link to a research summary.

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