5G Antennas and Connectors: Linking the World Faster Than Ever
The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world to its core in nearly every conceivable way, including the tech industry. Every person as well as every non-profit organization, academic institution, business and government has had to reckon with operating while adapting to a worldwide quarantine. These changes have created challenges in our telecommunication infrastructure and access to mobile computing devices. Fortunately, part of the solution to many of the problems was already in the process of being fielded before the pandemic. The next-generation telecommunication technology, colloquially referred to as 5G, is poised to be a key enabler for the world’s demand for global, real-time, constant connectivity. Its global rollout is now accelerating, and the world should be in a much better place to handle the next global calamity as a result.
Many in developed nations have grown accustomed to the numerous changes that have occurred over the past year. From telehealth and remote learning to full-time telework, we will emerge out of COVID-19 quarantines and into a very different world. Other changes coming down the pike, such as autonomous vehicles, robotic surgery and an increase in the utilization of aerial drones, mean the world’s appetite for increased speeds and bandwidth, as well as lower latencies, will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.
5G: Revolution, Not Evolution
Fundamentally, 5G is all about speed and bandwidth—pushing more bits faster. Faster speeds translate to higher frequency signals. This includes today’s sub-6 GHz technologies as well as next-gen exclusive millimeter wavelength (mmWave) frequencies, with some planned implementations reaching frequencies as high as 60 GHz. For many manufacturers, especially those predominately focused on consumer-oriented markets, this part of the electromagnetic spectrum is uncharted territory. Crucial to manufacturing high-quality 5G devices are antennas that radiate efficiently and connectors that mate various components and circuit boards to one another in an electrically seamless manner.
Rethinking and Redesigning Components for 5G
Even before considering the electrical characteristics of antennas and connectors capable of handling 5G signals, the mechanical specifications are increasingly important on their own merits. People expect their mobile communication devices to be small and lightweight. This has placed severe constraints on the physical dimensions of components. With connectors often being some of the largest components in a mobile device, the ever-shrinking form factor has forced engineers to become more creative in designing high-speed connectors.
Physical changes to a connector (e.g., mating styles, contact geometries) can have a significant impact on its electrical characteristics with respect to power and signal integrity, especially at mmWave frequencies. Chief among those concerns is attenuation, which can be attributed to three factors: resistive and dielectric losses, reflected energy losses, and radiating or leakage because of insufficient shielding. Depending on the application—for example, 5G base stations, which may divide a 5G signal into upwards of 128 beams—attenuation can have a serious impact on the quality of service. Or to compensate, costs and complexity must increase to account for additional components such as amplifiers. These costs can multiply rather quickly considering the sheer number of 5G devices that are expected to be fielded. However, it is possible to “design out” these additional costs if antennas and connectors are thought of as being an integral part of the overall system design and not a mere afterthought.
Having a Systems Perspective
Applying a multidisciplinary approach to 5G connector and antenna design that leverages an engineer’s knowledge of the electrical, mechanical and material sciences can yield innovative solutions for 5G devices of all types, from smartphones to next-generation factory equipment powering the industrial internet of things. This knowledge will be sought by manufacturers that run the gamut from disruptive boutique companies with a small portfolio of one or two products all the way to market leaders with dozens if not hundreds of products.
The range of companies and products that intend to leverage 5G communications technologies will only continue to grow as the manufacturing capabilities for 5G components improve and allow for increased customization. While some manufacturers will continue to rely on off-the-shelf components to keep costs down, many others will seek fully integrated and highly customized solutions, even at the expense of increased unit costs. 5G component designers and manufacturers must be ready to be more than just a part manufacturer. They must be a partner throughout the design life cycle.
The Molex Advantage
Molex offers an extensive line of antenna and connector products ready to meet our client’s 5G needs today. Within our connector product lines, we recommend clients look at our Mirror Mezz Connectors, 2.2-5 RF Connector System, and QSFP Connectors. Molex also offers several antenna products ready for use in sub-6 GHz 5G applications and employs cutting-edge manufacturing technologies such as Molded Interconnect Device/Laser Direct Structuring (MID/LDS). MID/LDS allows for the tight integration of complex electrical and mechanical structures in three dimensions. From the customer’s perspective, this translates to 5G components that are smaller than those produced by 2D manufacturing processes.
Our value goes beyond component design and manufacturing. Molex’s test facilities are capable of testing low-band, mid-band and mmWave 5G frequency bands. We also leverage state-of-the-art simulation software such as the Ansys High-Frequency Structure Simulator (HFSS) and Computer Simulation Technology’s (CST) Studio Suite. Working with Molex during product development gives OEMs confidence that their products and associated components have been thoroughly tested before product launch. We stand ready to work with clients who are looking to leverage not only our components but also our expertise to build a better post-COVID-19 world: A world of seamless wireless communications that enables better healthcare, education, business collaboration and so much more.
For more on how we at Molex think about 5G and its impacts, challenges and opportunities, we encourage you to check out this deep dive titled “The Future of RF and Microwave Connectors.”