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5G’s Impact on the RF Front-End Industry

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RF Front-End Industry 5G’s Impact

How will wireless infrastructure and cell phone terminals change in the next decade?

Which applications are driving 5G, and when will they be implemented?

Not long ago 5G was just a dream, one that motivated a new mobile generation: the dream of a single persuasive technology that could provide any service to any user, anywhere.

Today, 5G is more than a dream – it’s a hot topic. Every telecom operator, base station manufacturer, small-cell manufacturer, and user-equipment provider is working on 5G, in either one or all three of its aspects:

5G for the Internet-of-Things (IoT): with frequency below 1 GHz for IoT devices requiring low data rates, along with long-range coverage and at a low cost. Technologies are already available, including short-range radio/WiFi and dedicated networks like SigFox and LoRa. These collaborative protocols are designed specifically for low power, and they can already achieve a 10-year battery lifetime. So the questions are: what would 5G bring to the IoT? Will the IoT be a massive opportunity, or just a niche area for 5G?

5G Sub-6GHz: with a frequency below 6GHz marking the actual 4G technology’s evolution with massive MIMO, more carrier aggregation and more front-end module integration will push the limits of current technologies. The initial phase aims to use existing base station sites for 3.5/4.5 GHz to simplify 5G introduction. 5G can also be deployed on a shared spectrum, i.e. 3.5 GHz in the U.S. and in unlicensed spectrums like 5 GHz. This approach presents new opportunities for enterprises and industries to benefit from 5G technology without the need for a licensed spectrum.

5G mmWave: possesses a frequency above 10 GHz - typically 28GHz, 39 GHz, or 60 GHz for short-range, high data-rate exchanges. Today, two specific use-cases are observed in the US and Korea:

  • Fixed wireless access for Verizon and AT&T in the US. Trials are progressing, and deployment phases are scheduled in around 15 US cities.
  • 5G trial services will support the February 2018 Winter Olympics Games in Korea for KT

Both use cases have their own specifications, and their common ground is a 28 GHz spectrum to access wider bandwidth and higher data rate. Furthermore, in 2019 Qualcomm is committed to bringing a 5G mmWave phone to market. This will require extensive R&D to solve antenna integration issues and devise a 5Gmm Wave RF front-end (RFFE) that can sustain the cell phone industry’s performance, miniaturization, and cost pressures.

RF Front end industry 5G impact, key enabling technologies for 5g report 

5G trials are in place and gaining momentum!

From an infrastructure point of view, major investments have already been made. Telecom operators and base stations/small cell providers are at the trial stage, performing real-world tests.

In the U.S., Verizon and AT&T are pushing hard for 5G Fixed Wireless Access by performing trials and entering deployment phases in around 15 US cities: Austin (TX), Dallas (TX), Houston (TX), San Francisco (CA), Atlanta (Georgia), Denver (CO), Miami (FL), Seattle (WA), Washington D.C., and others. The providers have partnered with companies like Cisco Systems Inc., Ericsson LM, Nokia Corp., and Samsung on the infrastructure side.

In fact there are many 5G initiatives worldwide, and lucrative business opportunities are right around the corner.

Global mobile data traffic is growing at an astonishing rate, with a >40% CAGR predicted from 2017 - 2022. Cell phones will be the platform of choice for the maturation and implementation of 5G technologies. New applications and use-cases like augmented reality/virtual reality and autonomous vehicles will benefit from this technology maturation step. However, many technical challenges remain before 5G can be considered a success.

For wireless infrastructure, obstacles exist in terms of significant technology overhaul and installation of a large number of smaller local cells to assure signal quality, power efficiency, and thermal dissipation optimization. This will put pressure on power amplifier technology, smart antenna integration and cost, and packaging materials for the RFFE.

For cell phone terminals, challenges are related to smart antenna integration and RFFE miniaturization, cost, and performance. This will put pressure on all RFFE components (filters, switches, PAs, LNAs, antenna tuners) and on the packaging technologies able to create small form-factors in all directions (X, Y, Z) and embed low K dielectrics and low-loss interconnects for good signal integrity.

RF Front end industry 5G impact, 5G applications timeline and main technical specifications report 

5G will feature a high level of complexity and disruption

5G should integrate mobile broadband, the IoT, and advanced automation like autonomous cars, all in a single standard technology. As previously stated, 5G has three aspects: IoT, sub-6GHz, and mmWave. In terms of RF technologies, this would mean bringing together devices that require extremely dissimilar performance.

Hence this highly complex mix implies different implementation stages, and 5G’s various aspects will not be implemented simultaneously. 5G IoT, 5G sub-6GHz, and 5G mmWave will follow their own paths and create parallel ecosystems with connections in-between.

As 5G cell phone and wireless infrastructure technology matures, applications will emerge. This will take time, and many players are already positioning themselves for a slice of the pie. New business models will thus emerge: for example, some Telecom operators, mainly American ones like Verizon and AT&T, are deploying pre-5G networks (with their own standards) targeting residential broadband as an alternative to fiber. Qualcomm is open about its desire to be the first to introduce a 5G mmWave for cell phones, but other players are exploring this too - the usual mainstream suspects such as Intel and Samsung, followed by leading RF CMOS/SOI foundries like GLOBALFOUNDRIES, TOWERJAZZ, UMC, TSMC, etc.

Ultimately, what we are really lacking today are 5G standards. These are on the way though, via major organizations like ITU, 3GPP, and ngmn. In 2018, ITU will submit a proposal on 5G. 3GPP agreed on an intermediate milestone for the early completion of the non-standalone (NSA) 5G NR mode for the enhanced Mobile BroadBand (eMBB) use-case by March 2018. 3GPP also restated its commitment to complete the Standalone (SA) 5G NR mode by September 2018, and has a plan in place to achieve this goal.

The next few years in the RF industry will be extremely exciting and challenging. Through technology standardization, prototyping, trialing, and ecosystem creation, 5G will become a reality. This will require time, but the voyage is already underway, so stay tuned. The promise is a huge business opportunity.

5G impact rf industry, 5G ecosystem report 

Objectives of the Report

Ecosystem identification and analysis:

  • Determine the 5G market’s dynamic
  • Technical market description
  • Economic requirements, by segment
  • Key players, by market and analysis
  • Market size and forecast in $M, Munits, and WSPY

Market analysis and description, and technologies involved:

  • Major players worldwide
  • Technology identification for different devices and processes
  • Competing technologies
  • Main technical challenges
  • Future direction


Table of contents

Glossary 3

Report objectives & methodologies 5

Executive summary 6

Related reports 23

Introduction to 5G 25

> Ecosystem
> Use cases
> Market segmentation

Market forecasts 75

> Wireless infrastructure
  - Market volume & value
  - Split by backhaul, macro cells, and small cells
  - Split by device type (PA, LNA, filters, switches)
  - Split by technology evolution (semiconductor platforms)
> Cell phone terminals
  - Market volume & value
  - Split by air standard
  - Split by device type (PA, LNA, filters, switches, antenna tuners)
  - Split by technology evolution (semiconductor platforms)
> Global forecasts
  - Market volume & value
  - Split by wireless infrastructure and cellphone
  - Split by device type (PA, LNA, filters, switches, antenna tuners)
  - Split by technology evolution (semiconductor platforms)

Players and ecosystem 105

> Infrastructure
> Cell phone terminals

Evolution trends 125

> 5G characteristics and future possibilities
> Beyond 5G?

Conclusion 145

Yole Développement company profile 152



Companies cited

 ACCO Semiconductors
 ASE Group
 China Mobile
 China Telecom
 Deutsche Telekom
 Murata Manufacturing
 Nokia Networks
 NTT Docomo

 SK telecom
 Sumitomo Electric
 Tayio Yuden
 Win Semiconductors


























  • 5G market segmentation and ecosystem
  • 2015 - 2025 market landscape and forecast, including revenue by end-market (infrastructure vs. cell phone), RFFE component type, players, and volume
  • Roadmap for technology evolution and future developments
  • RF front-end industry strategy