Teraphysics looks to 5G, small cells to prove out its high-band spectrum invention

Take the knowledge of NASA scientists, throw in some synthetic diamond, add the spectrum crunch and the path to 5G, and you've got what seems to be the perfect time for launching a new company that combines all those things.

The problem is, Teraphysics is not a new company -- it was formed more than 10 years ago, but it has refined its processes so much so over those years that it's ready to come out of the closet, so to speak, or more precisely, the lab in Cleveland, Ohio, where technologists have been working on their inventions.

What they've developed is called a traveling wave tube, but it's much smaller than the typical vacuum device. The principals in the company -- CTO Jim Dayton Jr., President Jerry Mearini and CEO Lou Fisi -- formed the company back in 2002. "We've sort of been under cover," Fisi told FierceWirelessTech, "but now we're coming out." One of the first applications for the technology is likely going to be backhaul for small cells.

Teraphysics leaders say their challenge is to create awareness of the company and make sure that it is part of the scene as 5G standards are being formulated. While it doesn't have the name brand of the larger infrastructure vendors, it has been able to solve problems that some of the bigger companies have not addressed.

Dayton explained that they've take a technology -- which is not a new technology, this kind of device was invented in the 1940s -- but previously, no one could build for higher frequencies above about 60 GHz; Teraphysics has built them for frequencies as high as 650 GHz.

"We're exploring new terrain that hasn't been worked on before, and in the process, each innovation we add to the device makes it smaller and smaller and now the amplifiers we've built are about the size of a credit card and weigh about 1 pound," Dayton said. That compares with a typical vacuum electronic amplifier, which would be about 12 pounds.

In the last few months, the company was challenged to develop a lower power version of the tube, and it has a design for one that would be as small as a cubic inch in volume and put out 2 watts of linear RF power in the 71-76 or 81-86 GHz band -- the band that is being used for connecting backhaul in urban settings.

"We think our device could be a replacement for optical fiber in some instances," Dayton said. "We can achieve very high data rates, much higher than you can with the solid state amplifier, and we can do this over a longer range than the solid state amplifiers are capable of."

Teraphysics' product is designed to work in what's called the E band spectrum. The problem is, it's gotten a bad rap due to vendors overpromising and under-delivering. Even though Teraphysics is not in the solid state business, "it's not an easy sell at this given moment," Fisi said.

Mearini said the company's concept started with Dayton, who had a long career at NASA before joining Teraphysics. Mearini and Carol Kory, VP of technology development at Teraphysics, worked with Dayton and they developed software modeling techniques. "Back in 2002, we began to use those techniques to take what were sort of the conventional amplifiers that go onto space communication satellites and miniaturize them, make them at much higher frequency by utilizing laboratory grown diamond," Mearini said, which is effectively the basis that led for these devices to be used terrestrially. "It's taken us that long to get to a point where we have now working prototypes in the lab," and they've been built to work at up to 650 GHz.

If history is any indication, Teraphysics may have come up with something that will find a life years into the future. During his last years at NASA, Dayton and his team developed amplifiers that are flying in the vicinity of Saturn --  in other words, the pictures that are being transmitted back to earth from the Cassini spacecraft are using the kind of amplifiers that were developed by Dayton's group at NASA in Cleveland.

Related articles:
Nokia Networks lobbies for 70, 80 GHz bands for mmWave, 5G
mmMAGIC consortium sets sights on spectrum above 6 GHz for 5G
Google to test millimeter wave transmissions in 71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz bands