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Software driven Smart Antenna powered by RF MEMS Technology

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - SWARM (Software driven Smart Antenna powered by RF MEMS Technology)

Reporting period: 2018-05-01 to 2019-03-31

Sofant's disruptive SmartAntenna innovation is based on a patent-protected programmable RF MEMS (Radio Frequency – Micro Electro Mechanical System). This results in a significant reduction in energy usage (up to 80%) and heat radiated into the environment. The technology also achieves the best signal strength consistency by focusing radio energy in the direction of the wireless base station. Power consumption, excessive radiated heat and improved connectivity are key problems for the rapidly growing global mobile wireless communication market.
The upcoming 5G wireless standards are being created to help address the growing market demand for mobile data. Antenna performance has a significant impact on data throughput, power consumption and heating in devices. As mobile operators add new capacity at higher frequencies in the millimetre wave (mmW) bands, the pressure on power consumption and data throughput is increasing. Sofant is developing a ‘SmartAntenna’™ to address the emerging challenge for 5G mmW applications. Sofant’s addressable markets are in the mobile phone, routers, base stations, small cells, consumer electronics, automotive and satellite terminals. The addressable market for Sofant’s technology is expected to exceed US$4 billion by 2023. Sofant’s plan is to create a significant European based global wireless technology business.

The overall project objectives are to:
• Produce a qualified miniature SmartAntenna™ system ready to be commercialised with Satellite Terminal providers.
• Establishing RF MEMS manufacturing supply chain.

As a result of the program, Sofant successfully demonstrated and characterised the miniature Smart Antenna™ system. A contract has been signed and work has commenced on transferring the RF MEMS device into a high-volume wafer fab for mass production.
An important aspect of the project is the commercialisation of the technology. Sofant has engaged with a number of key customers to ensure that the technology is well aligned with market needs. Based on input from the market, Sofant concluded that there is a clear market need for our technology in Satellite terminals and 5G applications in the mmWave bands (i.e. around 30GHz).

The smart antenna system required to address this market opportunity consists of an antenna array and RF MEMS device and CMOS controller IC. The antenna and array development work approached maturity during period 1. Testing of the antenna designs was carried out in period 2 of the project. Sofant successfully transferred the fabrication process of the RF MEMS technology from a university facility to a commercial facility in period 2. This technology transfer will enable us to obtain samples for customers’ demonstration and is a necessary stepping stone before heading into fully integration solution and mass production. In period 3 Sofant signed a contract to ramp commercial production with a large MEMS Fab.

Sofant is in detailed discussions with several potential technology development partners who are helping to develop a full set of specifications and eventually adopt our smart antenna system in a demonstration platform or product.
The project team held meetings every fortnight to provide updates on the project status, highlight any possible delays and put corrective measures in place. The project risks were reviewed regularly, and unforeseen risks were updated. Minutes were produced from project meetings and uploaded onto the SWARM project server which is accessible by all team members. The SWARM website - http://swarmproject.co.uk - was kept up to date with news which could be published.
Sofant have been able to successfully demonstrate beam-steering of a 1x4 array that can be used as the building block for larger arrays. The has been used to extend the concept to 4x4 sub-arrays that in turn form large arrays of up to 4096 elements. Sofant has been actively promoting their RF MEMS and sub-array approach within the Satellite terminal community.
Sofant is designing a state-of-the-art RF MEMS device for 5G and Satellite Terminal applications and it aims to be the first company in a world with such a product. If successful, Sofant will be the first company to commercialise MEMS phase shifters for commercial applications. To the best of our knowledge, there are currently no competitors working on the same approach. Sofant is proposing a novel beamforming architecture which will save an enormous amount of energy and importantly reduce total system costs. Sofant’s architecture avoids the need to have a power amplifier integrated with each antenna element (average of 16 in an array) by replacing it with a single power amplifier which is integrated with each antenna array. This is possible because the MEMS devices targeted insertion loss of less than 2dB, while competitive solutions losses are around 7dB. Sofant dramatic performance advantage saves several components and reduces the antenna array size and cost.

The impact to date can be measured in various ways:

• Increased headcount
Sofant increased its team by hiring an experienced VP of Engineering and Operations in 2018.

• Patents resulting from project
Sofant has filed four international patent applications based on the new RF MEMS Smart antenna design and MEMS integration methods. These patents included new features and functions that will have a commercial impact on the exploitation of the project.

The economic impact of the project will not be realized until Sofant has a dedicated technology development partner which is actively engage in our target markets. We are successfully pursuing this goal with the aim to have a dedicated partner by the end of this 2019.
Regarding additional social impact, Sofant smart antenna system being realised in this project enables highly power efficient and low-cost 5G and Satellite Terminal solutions that can be applied in both the mobile devices and base stations. This allows fast and reliable internet connections to be deployed throughout Europe, especially in rural areas where communities suffer the lack or the inadequate performance of the available internet connections. Additionally, the solution provides benefits in power consumption and excess heat radiation which will be critical to enabling society to benefit from fast internet at the same time as having a positive impact on climate change.