Northrop Grumman Tests Prof. Krishnaswamy’s World Record CMOS mmWave Power Amplifier

Oct 14 2014 | By Holly Evarts | Photo: Eileen Barroso

Eighteen months ago, Harish Krishnaswamy, assistant professor of electrical engineering, generated a record amount of power output—by a factor of five—using silicon-based nanoscale CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) technology for millimeter-wave power amplifiers (PAs). He and his CoSMIC lab team accomplished this by developing a chip design methodology that stacks several nanoscale CMOS devices on top of each other so that they can handle larger voltages without compromising their speed.

Harish Krishnaswamy

Since then, Krishnaswamy’s group has been working with Northrop Grumman to transition their millimeter-wave power amplifiers to the major aerospace and defense technology company to see it used under real-life conditions. The research is part of the DARPA ELASTx (Efficient Linearized All-Silicon Transmitter ICs) program, in which Krishnaswamy has been a participant since 2010.

Krishnaswamy’s device enables mobile low-cost SATCOM (satellite communications) terminals that can be mounted on top of vehicles to communicate with satellites. “They took our PA and replaced an existing Gallium Arsenide PA in the terminal with ours,” he says, “and showed that the system works well, that video can easily be transmitted.”

He notes that the ability to replace the GaAs PA means that all the connectorized and discrete pieces of hardware in the terminal can be miniaturized into a single CMOS integrated circuit, thus reducing the terminal to something, for example, the size of a phone.

“While this demonstration shows the applicability of this PA technology to DoD applications, we are exploring applications that impact daily life as well,” Krishnaswamy adds. “We are currently working with Qualcomm to explore millimeter-wave wireless networks enabled by this PA technology that could connect an entire city with enormous data rates approaching 100 Gbps.”