A Must Have for 5G Connectivity: Robust Deployment

Over the past few years, the telecommunications industry has shifted from the connected era—with a heavy focus on connected or “smart” devices—to the data era, where the information acquired through connected devices can be used to deliver services to improve lives. The transition from 3G and 4G connectivity to LTE was the first step in enabling a significantly large amount of data to be transferred over the network. Soon, 5G connectivity will boost data processing rates even more and open a world in which data can be used in the workplace, cities and home life.

The Drive for 5G

There are 3 major ways 5G will be used in the near future, and these approaches are each currently driving the demand for greater connectivity.

First, consumers who want to live a fully digital lifestyle require enhanced mobile broadband and the ability to load or process gigabytes of data on their phones in milliseconds. This sector of profile users includes those who will spend a lot of time utilizing augmented and virtual reality technology, a variety of connected and smart devices, and HD videos at 8K quality and beyond. These consumers will demand constant, uninterrupted and seamless connectivity at the highest speeds possible.

A second scenario driving 5G demand is massive machine-type communications (mMTC), which provides connectivity capabilities to many devices that intermittently transmit small amounts of data. In everyday life, mMTC will take the form of smart cities—containing 5G-connected lampposts, stop lights and buildings at every corner with the ability to control traffic flow and other city operations—as well as connected agricultural systems in rural areas that would lead to better yields on crops and lower food costs.

And third, 5G connectivity is also critical for ultra-reliable and low-latency communications. These almost real-time connections that never drop can be relied on to support high-stake infrastructures such as self-driving cars, remote patient monitoring, and industrial automation in factories and utility operations.

Connectivity from the Inside Out

These 3 drivers will impact key components of operations for consumers and industry alike. However, they will only succeed if devices can fully utilize 5G capabilities—even while it is slowly being rolled out. Widespread deployment in urban and rural areas across the globe will take many years, experts say. In the short term, consumers can expect to see standalone cities or regions adopting the technology driven by their unique local demands.

Due to this disjointed deployment approach, devices must have the ability to switch seamlessly between 5G and LTE or Wi-Fi connections. Because 5G requires different device architecture than legacy networks, smartphones will have to drastically alter the components within the devices—and real estate within those devices is quickly becoming scarce.

Circuit boards within the phone are getting more and more crowded—even before 5G, the demand for rapidly processing data and data transfer capacity through antennas has required smartphone makers to stack PCBs on top of each other. To keep the phone thin, designers have removed the shield over integrated circuits and transitioned from using coaxial cables to using liquid crystal polymer flexible printed circuits. Now, with the integration of 5G capabilities, designers need to fit in mmWave RF antenna modules—typically 3 are required in a device to get the right amount of connectivity. These changes add to the complexity of antenna and signal integrity inside the device, as well as create challenges such as avoiding additional drain on the battery, overheating and minimizing space for other components.

Infrastructure and Deployment

Some changes that will usher in 5G connectivity need to take place outside the device as well. Experts estimate that the number of small cell sites will have to increase tenfold from the current amount of 4G cell sites due to the 5G requirement of mmWave frequency. While mmWave connectivity is faster and more reliable, it also doesn’t travel as far as sub-6GHz waves and is more easily blocked by buildings, trees and even rain. Beam steering and tracking solutions will be used to address some of these challenges, but more small cell sites are critical for seamless 5G connectivity, especially inside buildings.

While it may be years before individual, at-home small cells become commonplace, 5G mmWave antenna sites will likely be prioritized in high-capacity areas like concert halls, arenas and airports before trickling down into workplaces and apartment buildings.

Industry experts emphasize that the speed of the rollout of 5G depends on the market need for connectivity capabilities, which will expand as data-driven connection is integrated into consumers’ everyday lives. For example, many people have a smartwatch that tracks their workouts, sleep, blood pressure and other biological data. While that information is interesting to have on hand, most people don’t know what to actually do with this data. In this instance, 5G-driven data processing capabilities can provide long-term health insights along with real-time monitoring, turning a novelty into a critical asset. For example, medical information could be sent to doctors to monitor glucose levels for certain health conditions. As consumers and businesses understand the myriad of ways 5G can enhance their lives and market share, the desire for those services will grow—and devices will need to be able to deliver.

For more insights about how the rollout of 5G will change mobile devices, listen to Stephen Drinan, Molex’s director of core products for antennas and micro solutions, on the Frequency Matters podcast, which can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_otxcTmA3k&feature=youtu.be.