Radio-frequency modules for future generations of communication systems

IIn the REFERENCE joint project, 16 European partners worked together to enhance the use of novel radio-frequency silicon-on-insulator (RF-SOI and FD-SOI) technologies in the development of RF front-end modules (FEMs) for communication systems. Both techniques provide great potential in terms of performance, cost and integration requirements of the industry for electronic modules for wireless communication systems. The target was to enable new applications in the mobile communications, Internet of Things, automotive and aerospace sectors. The project was successfully finished at the end of 2019

Over the past four years, the REFERENCE project focused on developing innovative tools to address the at that time unresolved requirements for high data rate 4G+ communications and pave the way for next generation 5G communications through substrate development and design optimization. The work packages included materials, technical substrates, processes, design, metrology and system integration.


Fraunhofer EMFT as coordinator for the Design and Devices workpackage

With Fraunhofer EMFT in Munich, Fraunhofer IIS in Erlangen and Fraunhofer IZM in Berlin, three institutes were involved in the project. Fraunhofer EMFT coordinated the "Design and Devices" work package. In additionally, the research team contributed to a demonstration of integrated circuits (frequency synthesis, power amplifier and software-defined radio base band). These circuits paved the way to realize a fully-integrated Wireless Avionics Intra-Communication (WAIC) chipset operating in the dedicated 4.2-4.4 GHz band. The work is part of a multi-year joint effort by various partners to realize the WAIC standard in aircrafts. The  ultimate aim is to both increase safety and reduce weight, thus saving fuel. Fraunhofer IZM, together with CEA-LETI and AMKOR, contributed to an advanced package development for 5G front-end modules with integrated power amplifier, low-noise amplifier and switch. Fraunhofer IIS demonstrated a beyond state-of-the-art wake-up front-end development based on Globalfoundries' advanced 22FDX technology, enabling use cases that require ultra-low power consumption. 

© Fraunofer EMFT / Bernd Müller
Chip of a 4.3 GHz fractional-N phase-locked loop (PLL) frequency synthesizer with wide tuning range on the evaluation board

The REFERENCE project brought together a strong and high-profile consortium of 16 partner organizations from 5 countries, including six leading industrial companies in the materials, foundry and aerospace sectors, four semiconductor manufacturing equipment companies (SMEs), and a network of world-class public research institutes and academic institutions.

At the conclusion of the project, several special sessions and keynote presentations were organized at the 17th IEEE New Circuits and Systems Conference (NEWCAS) in Munich, Germany, to bring together the scientific and industrial communities and bring to the table all aspects related to RF and FD-SOI technology and its central role for Europe.

The topic of RF designs has been continued since June 2020 within the collaborative project BEYOND5 under the ECSEL JU Framework.