TeraHertz – The Future of Wireless Communication
The world of 6G will be one of abundance. By the time 6G matures in 2030, the way we communicate with each other could change drastically, incorporating everything from holograms to virtual reality. Future networks will include some notable applications like 3D calls, haptic communication, the ability to conduct surgeries remotely, unmanned mobility, the Nano Internet of things, etc. Needless to say, most of these systems will be very data-hungry.
Existing high-rate technologies such as mmWave Wi-Fi (60 GHz IEEE 802.11ad) or 5G mmWave (6 GHz) can reach only up to 6.8 Gbps. In other words, the capacity for existing channels has been used to its maximum potential. Thus, it is crucial to explore a new spectrum – a higher frequency spectrum, i.e., TERAHERTZ.
It is even envisaged that the 6G network will utilize the high-frequency spectrum between 100 GHz and 10 THz to achieve data rates in the order of hundreds of Gbps to meet the toughest 6G requirements. You can get the gist of the 6G and its technologies from our previous article – AI: a Key driving technology for the 6G network.
Developing a strategic spectrum roadmap toward 6G in terms of the THz band, thus, will be a good and valuable research challenge for the telecom companies in the coming years. How to go about it?
For that, you will need some information and insights, which I can help you with. In our brief time today, we will discuss details like
- key features and significance of THz frequency,
- recent patent filings in the domain, and
- the most promising applications
which can help you get acquainted with this development. Let’s get started.
How will THz impact the industry?
IoT devices are predicted to reach 25 billion by the year 2025. It is very challenging for the existing multiple access techniques to accommodate such a massive number of devices. Even 5G systems, which are being rolled out in the world, cannot support such a high number of IoT devices. Moreover, data-hungry apps like the ones that enable sending holographic videos need a spectrum bandwidth currently unavailable in the mmWave spectrum.
This increases the need for a bigger radio frequency spectrum bandwidth, which can only be found at the sub-THz and THz bands. The enormous bandwidth of the THz will enable the network to have extremely wideband channels with tens of GHz-wide bandwidth.
But if Terahertz is the next big thing in wireless communication, then:
- Who are the top companies working here?
- Which countries are they filing in?
- Is there any pattern in these filings?
- Which challenges lay ahead in the development of 6G and THz that the companies are trying to solve?
We will answer all these questions in the following section.
THz in Wireless Communications – Who is working on it?
The THz system is being highly researched, and improvements have been made in the past few years.
The major problem the companies are facing is in designing chips that can produce terahertz waves. Hence, most of the companies’ prime aspect is on developing a chip that can produce terahertz waves.
As seen from the graph below, the trend reflects companies’ growing interest in this domain as patent filing has increased almost exponentially in the past 5 years.
Another notable point in the patent filings is that out of all the patent families filed in the domain, approx. 2/3rd of them are filed in China. Interestingly, only 20-22% of them are filed in non-Asian countries. The numbers below reflect the same.
Count of patent families (till 2020)
|United States (US)||78|
|South Korea (KR)||22|
What could be the Possible reasons for China’s Supremacy in the domain?
- Since the Chinese Government has already kicked off its plan to promote 6G research in 2019 (source), it is obvious to see China at the top. As far as 2020, it seems that China wants to maintain its supremacy in the 6G technology as well.
- Another possible reason for China’s supremacy in this domain is the active research being conducted in various Chinese research institutes and telecom companies. There have been many filings from research institutes, such as Beijing University of Posts & Telecommunications, University Chongqing Posts & Telecom, etc. While, in the US, most of the research is being led by the telecom companies, and there is little to no patent filing from the research institutes.
Now looking at the companies working in this domain, it is no surprise to see the top Chip designing companies making the list. Along with China’s top telecom companies like Huawei, Oppo & ZTE, Intel, Siemens, and Xiaomi have also filed several patents. Intel leads at the front with almost 35 patent filings.
The wide technology areas where the terahertz can play a role seem to be the reason for these companies’ presence. E.g. Texas Instruments, in 2012, demonstrated a terahertz-range emitter that downsized millimeter-wave devices for a wide variety of applications, one of which included detecting hazardous substances (Source). Below are the numbers –
|Companies||Count of patent families|
What are the most promising applications of TeraHertz?
On giving a cursory view to the domain patents, we identified that the prime focus of these companies is to design a new transceiver module for THz. Some of the patent filings also talk about deploying highly directional dynamic massive MIMO antennas to avoid high path loss at THz frequencies.
Also, we can see there is an involvement of chip design companies like Texas Instruments and Intel that are on top, which are making chips used to transmit terahertz waves. These chips can be utilized in the mobile terminal to generate and communicate using the terahertz wave.
On a similar note, we can see that the telecom companies in China are also having their say in this domain. Companies like Huawei, Oppo, ZTE are focusing on technology consisting of UE and BS communication where UE is utilizing a chip for terahertz wave generation.
One of the exciting application areas we noticed is the use of THz wave communication in cars. E.g. Audi has filed patents pertinent to utilizing THz for communication. The communication is done between the battery cells of the car.
This reflects that not only the Chip design companies but companies having expertise in other domains, such as Telecom and Automobile, are also actively researching in this domain.
While there are a bunch of players working on THz tech, there are other chip designing companies that did not yet contribute much in this field such as Broadcom, Qualcomm, Nvidia, MediaTek.
Terahertz (THz) seems to be the next big tech. in the wireless domain and interested companies need to start their research soon before it’s too late. To get started, a good starting point would be to know the state-of-art technologies out there, what problems are being researched upon, what whitespaces are lying out there.
How do I get all this information? –You ask. This is where we can help. Send us a quick message and we will get in touch to discuss your needs.
Authored by: Mohd Azharuddin (Research Analyst, Search Team)