More than that, it needs to allow more data to be transferred between more machines than ever before, and all at lightning speed. To achieve all of this, it is a case of multiple devices and component manufacturers working together alongside carriers to deliver the complexity that is required.
5G is seeing huge amounts of investment, with infrastructure spending expected to exceed $326 billion by 2025. The question is whether this investment is enough to ensure electronics manufacturers have everything in place and are ready to deliver 5G to the masses.
Are All of the Components in Place?
As well as connecting to a 5G network, every piece of 5G technology will need a high-performance 5G chipset. For 5G to deliver the best possible experience, devices will need to make the most out of their features. To do this, they’ll need exceptional battery management as well as radio and antenna performance. Moreover, devices will need to be able to seamlessly connect with each other. If there are weaknesses in any of these areas, 5G won’t experience the anticipated uptake from service providers or consumers.
Electronics manufacturers need to get all of the supporting technology in place, including the following important components:
● Radio link network—An innovative software-defined cognitive radio (CR) network, which will reduce congestion on the RF spectrum.
● Multi-node and multi-antenna transmission—A technology based on beamforming that will expand the wireless connectivity between devices, providing low energy consumption and wide coverage.
● Millimetre cellular network—Small cells reduce the traffic at base stations by overlaying small cell access points, decreasing the distance between the transmitter and the user.
● Multiple RAT and multiple-layer network—Consisting of multiple antennas at both the transmitter and the receiver, multiple antennas allow more information data to be transmitted. This delivers increased reliability, spectral capability, and energy efficiency.
Green printed computer circuit board. Image courtesy of Pexels.
How Are Manufacturers Preparing for 5G?
Considering these devices need to support data rates that are ten times faster, networks must also be able to support thousands of times the data traffic that they do now. Manufacturers have a huge amount of preparation to do. Both scale and quality are required for a successful implementation, not to mention plenty of innovation.
As one example, PCB manufacturers are leveraging 2D Metrology technology to automatically inspect trace conductors. The testing capability will ensure better yield, supporting high-frequency, low-latency systems. However, manufacturing innovation needs to advance in many areas to support the demands of scale and quality that come with 5G.
Radio access networks are being drastically transformed, too. Legacy networks are being replaced by Ethernet-based eCPRI front-haul solutions. These aim to support the higher bandwidth requirements in a scalable way. Specialised 5G radio equipment is also being designed to increase network capacity and coverage. Manufacturers are working on small cells, distributed antenna systems, and massive MIMO.
Qualcomm has been at the forefront of developing technologies to ensure 5G can meet the diverse set of connectivity requirements. For several years they have been running a research project to design a unified 5G air interface. Their innovations, designed to be the building blocks for 5G, include:
● Scalable OFDM numerology—While OFDM is used today, scaling the choice of radio waveforms and access techniques will support diverse spectrum types and deployment models.
● Flexible self-contained slot structure—Allowing network operators to multiplex all 5G services on the same frequency. The slot structure enables each transmission to independently decode, avoiding static timing relationships. The slot structure framework also delivers lower latency and more adaptive configuration.
● Advanced ME-LDPC and CA-Polar channel coding—A channel coding scheme designed to provide robust performance and flexibility that the Turbo codes used for 3G and 4G don’t deliver.
● Massive MIMO—Improving network capacity and coverage by using more antennas intelligently. This includes smart beamforming techniques to extend the reach of base stations. Using 2D antenna arrays at the base station, which are capable of 3D beamforming, enables the use of higher-frequency mid-band spectrums.
● Mobile mmWave—The abundant spectrum available at frequencies above 24 GHz support extreme data speeds and capacity that can transform the mobile experience. Using a large number of antenna elements, mmWave can support sustained broadband communications.
Presentation of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X50 Modem. Image courtesy of Flickr.
Is the Hardware Ready to Deliver 5G?
It is still early days when it comes to the actual devices that will deliver 5G to the masses. As well as ensuring the networks deliver on their promises, manufacturers have to keep costs down to make mainstream adoption a reality.
The pieces of technology that are likely to first hit the market are:
● Snapdragon’s X50 modem—Qualcomm’s 5G modem already has the majority of leading mobile companies on board.
● Samsung’s Exynos 5100 modem—Fully compatible with the 3GPP’s 5G standard, the modem will support both the sub-6 GHz and mmWave portions along with legacy networks in a single chip.
● Motorola’s Moto Z3—Designed to support Verizon’s 5G network with an add-on.
There are, of course, other products in the pipeline from the likes of LG, Xiaomi, and Samsung, among others. While the 5G standards have only been recently set, it is safe to say that manufacturers around the globe have been working hard to prepare themselves.
What Work Still Needs to be Done?
While there has been substantial investment in 5G components and technologies, there is still a way to go. If 5G becomes the new networking standard at the expected rate, all of the components will need to be in place.
High-performance electronics, including passive component technologies, will be essential if the hardware is going to stand up to its promises. Manufacturers will need to be the true facilitators of the massive transformation that 5G can bring. They need to be at the forefront of innovation to ensure that 5G network quality and reliability live up to the dream.
This will require significant change and continuous innovation across a number of technologies and fundamental shifts in the communications market. While electronics manufacturers may be ready for the first 5G mobiles to be released, they have a long way to go before 5G can deliver everything that has been promised.
For more information on 5G, read our earlier instalment on the topic: 'Getting Familiar with 5G: What Is It Exactly and How Does it Work?'