5G Testing Technologies—Precision and Optimization Realized

Emerging 5G capabilities are transforming consumer and industry communication capacities beyond previously imagined limits. Most design engineers realize that widespread 5G deployment and integration requires specialized components to enable the required speed, strength and reliability of the network. While suppliers such as Molex have been designing antennas and micro connectors for decades, they have had to pivot their design, testing and manufacturing approaches for component optimization in 5G applications.

5G components now need to facilitate millimeter-wave (mmWave) frequencies of more than 30 GHz, a significant increase from the sub-6 GHz frequencies of legacy networks. This change calls for micro connectors and antennas that are incredibly sensitive—most 5G components need to be initially developed through advanced simulation because even tenths of a millimeter in size can cause dramatic changes in performance. Additionally, much higher levels of atmospheric loss and potential radiation emission call for judicious testing.

Molex’s design and manufacturing processes have evolved to include advanced simulation and testing capabilities to help enable company’s components to handle 5G applications. A combination of robust testing systems, streamlined design processes, long-standing expertise and in-house collaboration is needed for the development of cutting-edge 5G components.

Investing in Testing Infrastructure

Companies involved in making 5G components require state-of-the-art testing to measure capabilities of beamforming, radiation emissions, high-gain antennas, low-loss and high-frequency connectors, and more. There are a wide variety of test chambers, but mmWave testing systems need to have ultra-high precision positioners to assess the wide range of frequencies present in 5G applications as well as the slightest changes in radiation output. Ideally, the testing chamber should be full spectrum to avoid the need for multiple chambers.

mmWave testing systems are vastly more expensive than lower-frequency testing systems due to the need for low-loss and high-precision testing components. Older testing chambers are too large with cable systems that exacerbate path loss and energy loss caused by mmWave testing. Updated vector network analyzers are a definite requirement for measuring at the higher frequencies of mmWave.

Manufacturers that do not have in-house mmWave testing capabilities often rely on an outside testing house; however, the 5G component design process is often iterative and requires multiple reconfigurations based on testing results. Using an in-house testing system results in a more seamless and efficient design process.

New Design Processes Required

Before mmWave technology was required in antennas, manufacturers could develop antennas on the bench with mockups of the device or use early prototypes where the antennas would be built into a device by hand. But with the higher frequency requirements, the sizes are so small, and dimensions are so significant that the first iteration of antennas must be designed through simulation and prototyped directly from those models. Also, the transition from monopole or dipole antennas to array antennas—required to achieve higher gain levels—is challenging when considering how to design and integrate into devices.

Manufacturers have had to climb a learning curve to adapt to the new design and testing processes of 5G components. Designers now build a model of the component in a simulator and then run logistics and operational tests in the software. Once those are complete, samples are manufactured and run through the testing system to validate the simulator performance. Having an in-house testing system allows designers to quickly modify designs in the simulator and try again instead of waiting for results from a testing house.

Testing Expertise Is Imperative 

Reconfiguring the design process and acquiring an in-house testing system are just the beginning. It takes time and existing expertise to streamline and maximize 5G testing capabilities—something that early adopters, such as Molex, have focused on over the years. The process of testing mmWave components is sensitive, and setting up tests takes extreme care. All connectors must be torqued to the proper level, and precision tools are needed to confirm everything is set up properly. More experienced test operators such as Molex have determined specific methods for accuracy, such as using laser positioning for testing.

Designing and testing 5G-compatible micro connectors brings its own set of challenges for manufacturers. The 5G connector solutions required are significantly more complex and must meet more testing specifications in working with both 5G and older LTE network technologies. The wide spectrum of conditions the connectors must be able to operate in creates the possibility of radiation emissions, which must be designed around and tested for in the system.

Manufacturers with teams of experts often have these groups collaborate on enhancing how connectors and antennas are designed and tested to function together in 5G conditions. Many 5G participants (e.g., mobile device OEMs and integrators) require their strategic allies to have the capability to design antennas and interconnects that work in harmony.

Molex and Customer Collaboration 

Molex has designed antennas and micro connectors for decades, and has pivoted its design, testing and manufacturing approaches to optimize these components for 5G applications. Molex was an early investor in mmWave testing technologies, making the company a longtime frontrunner in 5G testing and design capabilities. While other companies were still relying on outside testing houses, Molex was streamlining its testing processes and benefiting from in-house iterations of new designs. Molex’s engineers have adapted to the 5G component design and testing processes and provide customers with unparalleled in-house expertise.

Molex’s 5G capabilities are further enhanced by collaboration between the micro connector and antenna teams. These two centers of expertise work closely together for customer solutions to perform seamlessly in a 5G environment. Contact Molex and start a conversation about 5G testing technologies for micro connector and antenna design, testing, and innovation.