Startup MagnaCom hypes spectrum-saving alternative to QAM

MagnaCom wants to kill off the aging quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) scheme in favor of its proprietary digital modulation technique called wave modulation (WAM), potentially changing the game for both wireless and wired communications.

The privately held startup claims WAM offers a system gain advantage of up to 10dB over the latest and greatest version of commercially available QAM, QAM4096. WAM is said to be 100 percent backward compatible with legacy systems and does not require any modifications to the RF, antennas or analog front end of devices.

QAM was invented in the late 1950s and has been in use for some 40 years. It is used in cellular, Wi-Fi, satellite and cable TV, wireless backhaul, cable and DSL modems, long and short haul fiber and numerous other applications. While engineers have made vast improvements to QAM over the decades, MagnaCom contends it is time to abandon the scheme for something better.

"WAM results in up to 400 percent longer distance, 50 percent lower power, 50 percent spectrum savings, lower cost, better noise tolerance and faster speed," the company said.

As explained by MagnaCom, semiconductor technology used in QAM4096 systems consumes high power and requires costly amplifiers to maintain linearity as much as possible. WAM is designed to overcome many nonlinearities generated by any analog circuits, enabling a lower-cost and lower-power transmitter design.

WAM performance allegedly degrades more gradually than QAM's as channel conditions worsen. Further, WAM's spectral compression is key to improving spectral efficiency. If indeed this new modulation approach can slash spectrum requirements by half, it would be a boon to spectrum-constrained operators worldwide.

MagnaCom, which is based in Laguna Niguel, Calif., intends to license its technology to partners. It has filed more than 70 patent applications globally and has been granted 15 first utility U.S. patents.

The startup claims WAM technology may require less than 1 square millimeter of silicon in a 28-nanometer process. MagnaCom has partnered with Altera to create a demonstration platform for next month's CES in Las Vegas.

MagnaCom offered up positive comments from numerous analysts, many of whom posed the caveat that WAM technology still must prove itself in real-world use cases.

"Most mobile operators are turning toward expensive solutions, which require very high signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) for high data density. If WAM technology can deliver fast mobile data with lower SNR, it would create a fundamental change in our industry, and would become a potential basis for 5G technology," said Joe Madden, principal analyst at Mobile Experts.

"WAM technology is being positioned to infrastructure providers to significantly increase their channel capacity to meet this increasing demand," said Michael Palma, research manager at IDC's semiconductor and enabling research group.

New modulation schemes generally must be standardized before they are deployed. Until that can be accomplished for WAM, Magnacom said it intends to establish beachheads in markets such as wireless backhaul and satellite TV that are not regulated by standards.

Amir Eliaz, the startup's CTO, developed WAM. He formerly was vice president of R&D for wireless backhaul company Provigent, which was acquired by Broadcom. The company's CEO is Yossi Cohen, an engineer who held executive positions at National Semiconductor, Broadcom and Motorola Mobility.

For more:
- see this MagnaCom release
- see this EE Times article
- see this Wall Street Journal article (sub. req.)

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