6 causes to maneuver to a full modem-to-antenna answer within the age of 5G

With multi-gigabit 5G speeds, reliability, security, and extremely low latency, the 5G rollout is impacting consumers, businesses, governments, and institutions around the world, changing every industry and life as we know it. According to the latest data from IHS Markit, the 5G value chain will create 22.8 million jobs and generate economic output of $ 3.8 trillion by 2035.

The growing demand for 5G smartphones – Qualcomm expects to ship over 750 million 5G smartphones by 2022 – will accelerate the race for one billion 5G connections worldwide by 2023 and exceed 4G adoption by two years. Behind these staggering statistics lies a Herculean challenge: taming the complexity as new smartphones are required to support older 2G / 3G / 4G and a host of new 5G frequency bands such as sub-6 GHz and mmWave. These features will ultimately help provide wider coverage, multi-gigabit speeds and high-speed internet access for mobile devices and many new segments such as automotive, infrastructure, connectivity and industrial IoT.

The 5G Economy, an independent study by IHS Markit, commissioned by Qualcomm Technologies Inc., November 2020.

The adoption of 5G will allow many industries to accelerate their digital transformation, resulting in better efficiency and competitiveness. However, 5G is much more complex than previous generations. Smartphone OEMs and new cellular operators offering 5G solutions can no longer rely on component-oriented approaches to meet customer expectations. To take full advantage of 5G, OEMs have to rely on a complete system solution from modem to antenna.

Complexity tsunami

The promise to deliver 5G globally can only be achieved by containing the complexity of RF front-end (RFFE) in 5G devices. In the early stages of 4G there were only 16 RF-tape carrier aggregation combinations. In contrast, we expect over 10,000 band combinations with 5G in the next few years alone, a complex tsunami that will have a direct impact on the design, assembly and certification of 5G smartphones.

From modems to antennas, new 5G mobile devices have to dance between myriad frequency bands and RF technologies, including MIMO (4×4 DL, 2×2 UL). Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS); E-UTRAN New radio – Dual Connectivity (EN-DC); Beam steering; Carrier aggregation; and mmWave.

Additionally, the RFFE is a jumble of existing and new low, medium and high spectrum bands, unlicensed bands (CBRS, etc.), navigation technologies and short range connectivity solutions including Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth. A wide range of RF technologies and frequency bands require a multitude of new filters / power amplifiers / low noise amplifiers in the smartphone’s RFFE architecture, which allows 5G smartphones to tune all these frequencies simultaneously, precisely and without interference, with no minimum battery consumption .

If you dig deeper, the quantum leap in complexity can also be seen at the filter and antenna level. While we’re talking about 100 filters today on a single premium 5G smartphone, 4G phones initially came with fewer than 30 filters.

Another hurdle is the diverse range of antennas required to precisely tune the many new bands / technologies on the market. Nowadays we typically work with eight to 10 antennas (on a premium 5G phone we can expect 10 antennas), while the first 4G / 5G phones supported six antennas.

After all, all of these components have to be elegantly pressed into ever smaller 5G form factors and extensively tested worldwide in order to achieve the best RF quality from modem to antenna. This is a great way to ensure that your phone will work seamlessly anywhere in the world.

Why switch to a complete solution between modem and antenna?

While navigating the maze of complexity can be tricky, there are six reasons why OEMs and new cellular carriers should switch to a full modem-to-antenna solution:

  1. A complete solution maximizes the system performance of a device by taking advantage of hardware-software co-design. This leads to a better user experience – data speed, coverage, responsiveness, fewer dropped calls, leaner devices – while lowering the device’s power consumption.
  2. With a proven modem-to-antenna solution, OEMs and wireless carriers can spend less time on hardware integration and testing, focus more on industrial design and user interface, and develop better products.
  3. Faster integration of new 5G technologies and use cases.
  4. Pre-baked, comprehensive solutions help reduce the R&D burden on OEMs while lowering the cost of developing, designing, assembling and producing 5G.
  5. Reduces device testing and certification time for operators around the world.
  6. Simplifies the modem RF procurement process.

Engineers and designers around the world are acting quickly to introduce complete modem-to-antenna solutions including LG, Motorola, OnePlus, OPPO, Samsung, Sony, Vivo, Xiaomi and many more. As 5G’s presence continues to grow, OEMs and wireless carriers need to integrate the best RFFE solution to deliver the promise of the 5G future and help their customers take advantage of high-speed connectivity, reliability and ultra-low latency.

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