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SWARM Report Summary

Project ID: 711260

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SWARM (Software driven Smart Antenna powered by RF MEMS Technology)

Reporting period: 2016-03-01 to 2017-04-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

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 90%) and improved battery life in mobile devices. The technology also achieves the best signal strength consistency by focusing radio energy in the direction of the wireless base station. Battery life and improved connectivity are key problems for the rapidly growing global mobile wireless communication market. The wireless industry is working very hard to keep up with exploding demand for wireless data as more and more people watch video on their mobile devices. 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 power consumption and battery usage within mobile devices. As mobile operators add new capacity at higher frequencies in the millimetre wave (mmW) bands, the pressure on battery performance and data throughput is increasing and Sofant is developing an ‘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 defence equipment sectors. The addressable market for Sofant’s technology is expected to reach US$1 billion by 2022. Sofant’s aim is to create a European based global wireless technology business.

The project overall objectives are:
• The principal outcome will be a fully complete and qualified miniature SmartAntenna™ system ready to be commercialised with one or more of the main mobile devices providers.
• Establishing RF MEMS manufacturing.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

In this project, a key aspect is interactions with the customers and markets to align the project developments with the future market requirements.
Significant efforts went into meeting customers and surveying the market. Based on input from the market Sofant concluded that there is a clear market need for our technology in 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 (this period). Testing of the antenna designs is expected to begin at the beginning of period 2 of the project. RF MEMS is the key technology enabler and continues to require significant development efforts. Sofant is in the process of moving the production from a university facility to a commercial facility. 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.

Sofant is working to secure at least one major technology development partner who will help to develop a full set of specifications and eventually adopt our smart antenna system in a demonstration platform or product. In parallel, Sofant is having significant amount if interaction with potential investors. In February 2017 Sofant was able to raise a round of finance with an aim towards closing a significantly larger round at the end of the year.
It is important to highlight that the project has been managed effectively. Risk management and mitigation have been handled accordingly. Project manager, Dr. El-Rayis, managed the project and the team in an effective manner, along with daily project requirements, there is a regular schedule bi-weekly meeting to monitor the progress against the plan and to highlight any potential delays or deviations. Dr. El-Rayis is also the technical authority on the project, working with the work package leaders to define and control the overall system design ensuring ongoing compatibility. Continuous interaction with the project officer and the commission is a key part of this task.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Sofant is designing a state of the art RF MEMS device for 5G 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 and importantly reduce total system costs. Sofant’s architecture avoids the need to have a power amplifier before each antenna element (average of 16 in an array) by replacing it with a single power amplifier which is integrated before the 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 save many components and reduces the antenna array size and cost.

The impact to date can be measured on multiple issues. First, we increased Sofant team by adding an experienced Engineer who started last year. Moreover, Sofant invented novel methods for packaging the MEMS and the smart antenna module. A key goal of the project is to have the package as low cost and as small size as possible while still providing a hermetic package which is required for the MEMS device. This led to 3 new patent applications that were filed in Dec 2016.

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 5G markets. We are successfully pursuing this goal with the aim to have a dedicated partner by the end of this year.
Regarding additional social impact, Sofant smart antenna system being realised in this project would enable highly power efficient and low-cost 5G solutions that can be applied in both the mobile devices and base stations (small cells). This will allow 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.

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