The next step for 5G in thermal materials

5G is a common feature of modern smartphones, with the small logo making its way to the top corner of our screens. IDTechEx says many people may think that 5G is old technology already here and now.

In reality, 5G spans several frequency bands, and IDTechEx says these have not yet been deployed equally.

The company says that while much of its 5G infrastructure is a modest upgrade from existing 4G technology, there is still plenty of room for the deployment of higher frequencies, such as mmWave devices, and very different drive types, such as small cells. Each of these new developments brings its own technological evolution and with it thermal challenges.

IDTechEx’s recent research into thermal management for 5G has yielded innovations in semiconductor technology (CMOS, SiGe, GaN, etc.), thermal interface materials and die-fastening technology.

Densification of electronics leads to thermal challenges

5G can be divided into different frequency bands, several of which will be repurposed for existing lower frequencies and some of the new bands up to 6 GHz. This is where most of the implementation has taken place so far.

But when people talk about the huge potential download speeds and minimal latency times, they usually refer to mmWave (>20 GHz) 5G. There is still room here for significant technological innovation and new use cases for implementation.

IDTechEx says the distance between the antennas is equal to half the wavelength of the signal, the higher frequency means the antenna itself can be much more compact, with thousands of elements combined in a package that is a fraction of the size of previous antenna technology .

However, this leads to a densification of the IC (integrated circuits) distribution, usually with the ICs directly on the back of the antenna card. In addition, the dense packing of ICs leads to greater heat dissipation and thus thermal management challenges.

IDTechEx research has shown that while most thermal interface materials (TIMs) in use today have thermal conductivity below 4 W/mK, the demands of future 5G devices will exceed this value well into the 5-10 W range. /mK can bring.

More antennas are needed

Another major challenge with higher frequency telecommunications infrastructure is signal propagation. As the frequency increases, the signal is more easily attenuated, significantly reducing the transmission range and easily blocking the signal by walls or windows.

IDTechEx says one solution to this problem is beamforming to directly target user devices. This greater control of the signal adds to the above challenges surrounding the compact nature of high-performance ICs on the antenna board.

However, this only goes so far. IDTechEx says that to achieve satisfactory coverage over key areas, many more of these antennas are needed. IDTechEx predicts a 41-fold increase in annual mmWave antenna deployment by 2032 compared to their deployment in 2022.

The company says this isn’t as much of a problem as it might seem at first glance, because, as mentioned earlier, the antenna units are very compact. This means that they can be deployed more easily and in more integrated formats (e.g. on lampposts) compared to previous infrastructure. Thanks to the need for more mmWave antennas, the thermal materials markets are expected to see a fivefold increase in them in the next 5 years alone.

IDTechEx’s latest report on Thermal Management for 5G examines the trends in 5G deployment and how it affects antenna design, choice of semiconductor technology, die-attach materials and thermal interface materials. Both technological aspects and market forecasts are included for the next 10 years. In addition, it takes into account many smartphones and how the integration of 5G affects thermal materials (interface and heat spreaders).

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