Seeing the enormous potential of fifth-generation (5G) wireless systems—namely connecting billions of devices to the Internet and providing faster service with fewer interruptions—IEEE Fellow Joy Laskar three years ago helped found Maja Systems. Based in Milpitas, Calif., the startup has developed a first-of-its-kind chip to connect machines wirelessly to one another over millimeter waves while sending data to the cloud in real time.
The company’s 60-gigahertz CMOS single-chip transceiver integrates with a high-performance antenna for multi-gigabit wireless connectivity. The chip includes all millimeter wave components, a modulation engine, and analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters. It consumes fewer than 400 milliwatts and fits in a module. Aimed at 5G applications including the Internet of Things, robotics, and virtual reality, it is available now to select customers and is expected to debut to the general public later this year.
The challenge for Maja Systems is designing a chip for an industry so new that standards have not yet been established. That’s why the company began by developing and selling chips for 4G networks.
“Our products have hooks in them that can be adapted as 5G standards evolve,” Laskar says, explaining that they can operate in the millimeter wave region, allow for low latency, and enable devices to communicate with one another.
QUICK AND NIMBLE
Laskar and Maja Systems’ team, whose members have backgrounds in design, engineering, and operations, have designed their chip with several goals in mind. The first is it must allow for a 1-millisecond latency—the time it takes for a packet of data to get from one forwarding point to another. Today’s 4G networks have a latency of 25 ms.
The new chip’s antennas can work with frequencies up to 80 GHz. Today’s 4G cellular systems have frequencies below 6 GHz. Antennas for 5G are shorter, between 1 and 10 millimeters instead of centimeters for 4G.
Operating in millimeter waves, a 5G network could transmit much more data and could be used, for example, to send and receive high-quality videos and multimedia faster than today’s networks can.
Maja’s 4G products support data rates of 3.5 gigabytes per second, moving toward 10 Gb/s and higher for 5G. The 5G chip would be integrated into machinery and gadgets, whether robots, appliances, or—eventually when the cost is down to just a few dollars—LED lamps for smart lighting systems. By incorporating the chips, such objects will be able to communicate with one another through the Internet, Laskar says.
Information could be uploaded to a smart lighting system’s software to track, for example, where people are in a room so the lights could be adjusted accordingly. The smart lighting also could communicate with the heating and cooling systems to change the temperature based on the number of people in the room.
The new chip will be able to replace Ethernet cables used in factory automation equipment such as robotic arms, Laskar says. It eventually could be used in augmented and virtual reality applications to provide a high-quality video game–like experience. Users will be able to view images through a headset as clearly as they see them on television, but without interruption caused by streaming, Laskar notes, and the headsets will be mobile and no longer tethered to a computer.
The chip enables complete multigigabit wireless links (including an antenna and any additional elements) which sell for less than US $500 each. However, he says, Maja Systems is working to reduce the price to $50 or less in the next few years.
GETTING THE WORD OUT
In the past few months, Maja Systems has shown its chip at industry conferences and events. “It has been surprising to me, in a good way, the amount of thought potential customers are putting into how they might incorporate our platform into their work,” Laskar says.
In anticipation of rapid growth this year in the 5G market, Maja plans to double its current staff, and it expects to turn a profit this year, he says. To date, Laskar and his cofounders have funded the company with their own money, and help from family and friends, as well as an angel investment of $3 million.
Laskar adds that while there is a lot of hype surrounding 5G technologies, there is no question the next-generation network will be deployed faster and on a larger scale than anyone imagined a few years ago. “The pace of development and innovation in this area is unprecedented,” he says. “The applications that 5G will enable are about to explode.”
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This article appears in the March 2017 print issue as “IEEE Fellow’s Venture Prepares for 5G.”