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Shaping radio signals using light Best of both worlds

Shaping radio signals using photonics technologies seems like a detour. But the versatility of current programmable silicon photonic circuits can open new possibilities according to researchers of the University of Twente. They present their ‘microwave photonic spectral shaper’ in APL Photonics. The paper is highlighted as an 'editor's pick'.

Prof. David Marpaung

Embedding the spectral shaper in larger filtering circuits with ten times lower losses will unlock new avenues in RF signal processing using photonics

Prof. David Marpaung

For processing signals in the radio frequency (RF) domain, for example in 5G communications, future 6G or radar, sharp filtering and other high-precision operations on the high frequency radio signals are important. Light, molded in integrated photonic circuits, can offer signal processing with large bandwidths and unmatched flexibilities thanks to the programmability of integrated photonics.  But still, the stage where radio signals are converted to lightwaves, known as optical modulation is cumbersome. The ‘spectral shaper’ that is now presented by the researchers, solves this bottleneck thanks to a number of flexible photonic components.

Programmable photonics

In order to shape the information signal, first the light components should be ‘taken apart’. The separate parts like the radio ‘side bands’ around the optical frequency can then be processed separately. When all photonic processing is done and the desired spectral shape is created, light is recombined and converted back into a radio frequency signal. All of these processes were done in the silicon chip using ring-shaped resonators and filters that can be electronically programmed. The chip also includes a high-speed detector for converting the light back to radiowaves.  

In previous publications, the researchers demonstrated that a photonic chip can serve as a 'Swiss army knife' for shaping radio signals

“This new spectral shaper is the basis for a whole range of complex operations that can be done on RF signals using programmable photonics “, David Marpaung says. He is a Professor at the Nonlinear Nanophotonics group at the University of Twente.

The chip that the researchers from Twente, Sydney and Ghent demonstrate in this paper, was made using silicon photonics. Next generation chips made in silicon nitride – the main photonic technology at UT’s MESA+ NanoLab – are currently under tests in Marpaung's lab.

The paper Versatile silicon microwave photonic spectral shaper’, by Xin Guo, Yang Liu, Tangman Liu, Blair Morrison, Mattia Pagani, Okky Daulay, Wim Bogaerts, Benjamin Eggleton, Alvaro Casas-Bedoya and David Marpaung, is published in APL Photonics. 

ir. W.R. van der Veen (Wiebe)
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