Niobium waveguide achieves high-precision comms for B5G/6G

Tuesday, 31 October, 2023

Niobium waveguide achieves high-precision comms for B5G/6G

Japanese researchers have made a breakthrough in the world of Beyond 5G/6G (B5G/6G) signal transmission, creating a waveguide made of niobium that speeds up the transition of B5G/6G signals. Their work has been published in the Journal of Physics: Conference Series.

The frequency of data waves has continued to increase as B5G/6G technologies have been introduced. Although the currently used metal transmission lines can handle B5G/6G, research has focused on superconducting metals, such as niobium, that have lower transmission loss and can handle higher frequencies.

Nagoya University’s Taku Nakajima and his collaborators evaluated the use of niobium in a waveguide, a three-dimensional transmission line consisting of a metal tube that guides and confines waves along a specific path, minimising losses due to radiation and absorption. However, working with the metal proved to be difficult as it was susceptible to deformation and damage during fabrication and handling.

“Fabricating a physical model of a waveguide was very difficult; at first, it was not possible to process it with any precision at all,” Nakajima said, with the first cutting causing a milling burr, an unwanted projection of the metal. “We tried to search for the best cutting tool and cutting parameters and eventually found that diamond-like carbon-coated tools were the best. This trial-and-error process took several months.”

Using their method, the researchers fabricated rectangular waveguides that can transmit radio waves in the 100 GHz band that are necessary for B5G/6G communications. They compared the conductivity of their niobium waveguide with that of common non-superconducting waveguide materials: a gold-plated tellurium copper and aluminium alloy. They tested both at room temperature and at low temperatures because the characteristics of superconducting metals change with cooling, entering what is called the superconducting state, which is characterised by low electrical resistance.

“As expected, we found that the conductivity improves as the temperature of the metal decreases, resulting in reduced losses in the circuit,” Nakajima said. “Using electromagnetic field simulations, we calculated the conductivity and transmission loss of each metal. The conductivity of niobium in the superconducting state was 1000 to 10,000 times higher than that of the aluminium alloy. Furthermore, the transmission loss of niobium in the superconducting state was calculated to be several tenths that of other metals. These two factors contribute to the creation of a high-quality, high-precision communication environment.”

The results of this study have important implications for B5G/6G communications. “By applying the results of this research,” Nakajima said, “an unprecedented ultra-sensitive receiving system can be realised in radio telescope receivers for astronomical observations, where waveguide circuits are already widely used, and in environmental measurement equipment for the Earth’s atmosphere. This will open up new fields of scientific observation using high-frequency radio waves, such as the observation of very distant galaxies in the early universe, which emit only very weak radio waves, or the monitoring of changes in trace atmospheric constituents in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.”

Image caption: Researchers fabricated 20 mm-length waveguides made of the superconducting metal niobium (right). These showed improved conductivity compared with normal metal materials such as a gold-plated tellurium copper (middle) and aluminium alloy (left). Image credit: Taku Nakajima.

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