Molnar, Jena and Xing join national consortium to develop future cellular infrastructure

Imagine a roomful of 1,000 students all simultaneously experiencing an augmented reality lecture and demonstration. Or, how about riding in an autonomous vehicle that can detect, in real time and despite inclement weather, an accident or obstacle miles ahead? For those scenarios to be possible, we need a new, enhanced generation of wireless communication.

And that is the focus of the newly established $27.5 million ComSenTer, a center for converged terahertz communications and sensing. Three Cornell faculty will be part of this consortium of over 18 faculty researchers across 10 institutions with the main center at University of California Santa Barbara (USCB). 

“Our center is simply the next next generation of communication and sensing, something that may become ‘6G’,” said Ali Niknejad, ComSenTer associate director and a UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences.

The fifth generation (5G) in mobile communications is currently under active investigation by industry, with expected deployments ahead of the 2020 Olympics. This emerging network will employ higher frequency bands, more spatial multiplexing and higher throughputs than those available to consumers today.

ComSenTer’s research will go further, laying the foundation for the next generation by utilizing extremely high frequencies in the range of 100 GHz to 1 Thz. According to the researchers, this will allow for the extreme densification of communications systems, enabling hundreds and even thousands of simultaneous wireless connections, with 10 to 1,000 times higher capacity than the nearer-term 5G systems and network.

Augmented reality and next-level imaging and sensing with a terahertz imaging radar are only some of the potential applications that ComSenTer seeks to make a reality. Other possibilities include chemical sensors and new medical imaging modalities.

ComSenTer is part of the new $200 million, five-year JUMP (Joint University Microelectronics Program), a consortium of industry research participants and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), administered by Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC). The partnership will fund research centers at six top research university networks that are led by UCSB, Carnegie Mellon University, Purdue University, the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan, the University of Notre Dame. 

Each research center will examine a different challenge that advances microelectronics, a field crucial to the U.S. economy and its national defense capabilities. The centers will collaborate to develop solutions that work together effectively. Each center will also have liaisons from the program’s sponsoring companies, which both aids in research collaboration and a proven model for technology transfer into the sponsors. JUMP sponsors come from both commercial and defense electronics industries.

The UCSB-led center that Cornell is part of will focus on large and scalable mm-wave arrays, which find applications in radar, high-resolution real-time imaging, situational awareness, and for precision navigation. For example, emerging autonomous systems place a huge demand on dependable and robust imaging at mm-wave frequencies, which are relatively transparent in most weather conditions. The team’s work will center around millimeter-wave circuits design with applications in scalable sparse arrays that aim to achieve a relatively high lateral resolution with fewer elements compared to traditional arrays. 

SRC is a world-renowned, high technology-based consortium that serves as a crossroads of collaboration between technology companies, academia, government agencies and SRC’s highly regarded engineers and scientists. For more information, visit

Adapted from Jan 18, 2018 press release from SRC/UCSB, Beyond 5G: UCSB is the lead institution for a research center that will explore terahertz-range communications and sensing. 

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