Akoustis Signs DARPA Contract to Advance BAW Technology

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Akoustis Technologies, an integrated device manufacturer of bulk acoustic wave (BAW) radio frequency filters for mobile applications, has announced a new multi–year, multi–million–dollar contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop new materials and manufacturing methods.

The project comes at a time when DARPA and other U.S. government organizations are seeking to build up trusted supply chains in the U.S. and reduce exposure to vulnerabilities resulting from dependence on imported chips. Of the top–five BAW filter suppliers, two are located outside the U.S.

Present–day BAW filters operate at frequencies around 6 GHz by converting electrical energy into acoustic or mechanical energy from a piezoelectric material. Akoustis said last week that expected advances from the DARPA project could extend the company’s proprietary XBAW technology to 18 GHz, opening significant commercial and defense applications. XBAW is a MEMS–based technology optimized for stringent requirements at frequencies in the range of 2 to 7 GHz.

Benefits of XBAW technology (Source: Akoustis Technology) (Click image to enlarge)

Traditional scaling of BAW resonators to the X and Ku bands in the 8 GHz to 18 GHz frequencies typically results in unacceptably low quality, degraded electromechanical coupling, and much lower power capability caused by leaked energy from the smaller resonators. One approach to BAW frequency scaling — simple overtone mode operation — severely degrades efficiency.

In the DARPA project, Akoustis plans to use its XBAW technology to circumvent the trade–offs from traditional BAW frequency scaling approaches. The company aims to provide, on completion of the project, XBAW filters and resonators that fully exploit the electromechanical coupling coefficient (kt2) of the piezoelectric material.

“A different frequency–scaling approach is required for BAW resonators to operate at higher frequencies above 10 GHz, such as X and Ku bands,” Akoustis CEO Jeff Shealy said in a press statement.

The X band is used for radar, satellite communications, and wireless computer networks. The Ku band is primarily used for downlink satellite communications and applications such as NASA’s Tracking Data Relay Satellite that supports space shuttles and communications from the International Space Station.

The increasing use of wireless data on earth and in space has led to strong demand for higher signal frequency and wider bandwidth in BAW devices.

Akoustis is aiming for a new method of BAW overtone operation that can maintain high quality while mitigating the decrease in electromechanical coupling. The company expects to advance its BAW RF filter technology in terms of power handling, quality, and frequency operation.

The company is producing Wi–Fi 6 tandem filter solutions, as well as 5G small cell XBAW filters. Akoustis is also sampling its new 5G mobile filters to customers and is ramping up its Wi–Fi 6E coexistence XBAW filters.

To meet an expected surge in 5G mobile, Wi–Fi 6, and Wi–Fi 6E demand this year, the company is boosting production capacity at its New York fab to approximately 500 million filters per year.

Akoustis owns and operates a wafer–manufacturing facility in Canandaigua, New York, that’s set up for 150–mm wafers. The company also designs, develops, and packages RF filters, MEMS, and other semiconductor devices.

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