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RF DEVICES & TECHNOLOGIES

The emerging 5G wireless communication standard will bring wholesale change, from services to device technologies shaping new wireless infrastructure, and in the associated supply chain. Yole Développement (Yole) now highlights the technology and market trends 5G is driving in one new report: “5G’s impact on the RF front-end industry: How will wireless infrastructure and cell phone terminals change in the next decade?”. Yole also explores how the system-in-package (SiP) platform will enable such changes in an accompanying report, “Advanced RF System-in-Package for Cell Phones”.

Yole expects the power amplifier component market for cellphones and base stations is expected to grow from $5.1B in 2017 to $11.3B in 2025. However, as usual in this industry, the expected market growth and impact on the semiconductor industry is similar to the financial investment needed to solve the remaining issues.

5G is very new in that it has to be disruptive both in terms of technologies and services. So there is increasingly integrated development between value improvements expected for users and the technologies enabling them.
The fifth generation of cellular networks is anticipated to arrive in the next 2-5 years, enabling gigabit-per-second data rates and a plethora of new applications and services. One of the key drivers for developing such speeds is high resolution video demand, attaining 4K and 8K quality and beyond, on mobile devices. Furthermore, future applications, such as mobile driven augmented and virtual reality, would benefit greatly from such technical capabilities. Data generated by Internet of Things (IoT) end devices will need to be transmitted over the cellular network as well. Global mobile data traffic will therefore grow at an astonishing compound annual growth rate (CAGR) exceeding 40% from 2017-2022.

5G applications timeline and main technical specifications Yole report

 

(Source: 5G’s Impact on the RF Front-End Industry, Yole Développement, Oct. 2017)

While some parts of 5G might be available as soon as 2019, in reality, there are many uncertainties which keep the global community in discussion. These include:
• Growth of applications and services which would require 5G networks
• Accuracy of future projected data demands and market growth
• Technology readiness
• Justification of financial investment in infrastructure required
• Allocation of appropriate frequency bands
• Competition from advanced WiFi, such as WiGiG
• Capabilities of ongoing 4G innovation

The fundamental motivation for developing 5G networks is the assumption that much higher data rates will be needed than 4G currently allows. The speed of 5G adoption will depend greatly on market demand and radio-frequency (RF) semiconductor technology quality. While the step from 3G to 4G was incremental, going to 5G is disruptive, both from financial and technology viewpoints.

It is very important to understand that 5G has three aspects, reflected in the different sectors of the electro-magnetic spectrum they span. The highest frequency 5G bands are in the range from 28 GHz to 60 GHz and even in some cases up to 80 GHz, with millimeter wavelengths (mmWave). This requires a significant technology overhaul and installation of a large number of smaller local cells to assure signal quality. Meanwhile, companies are making great efforts to improve current 4G technology in bands with frequencies below 6 GHz bands towards 100 megabits per second and beyond. Finally, sub 1 GHz frequencies will be used for 5G IoT. The semiconductor industry, from front end to assembly and test, is under intense pressure to innovate at a very fast pace while maintaining desired quality and reliability in all these sectors.

Cell phones are certainly 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 the resulting maturation. Many technical developments are on the way in order to overcome the challenges faced before 5G can be considered a success. But the applications and the societal impact are worth the investment.

Advanced semiconductor packaging represents a critical enabler of 5G. Losses at 5G frequencies, in particular mmWave, are overwhelming with current designs. New disruptive packaging architectures are needed with shorter signal paths and higher die integration to fulfil the 5G requirements and deploy a successful product. RF front end modules today use complex SiP architectures with 10-15 heterogeneous dies including switches, filters, silicon or compound semiconductor power amplifiers, and MEMS technology, and several types of interconnects, including wafer bonding, flip chip, and copper pillars, in a single package. Because future smartphone connectivity relies on SiP innovation Yole expects the CAGR for revenue from this sort of packaging to exceed 10% from 2017 to 2022. This is higher than the already fast-growing advanced packaging sector’s CAGR of 7% for the same period. Overall, the RF front end component market for smartphones is expected to grow from $12.3B in 2017 to $22.8B in 2022, with a CAGR of 13%.

Advanced multi-die SiP packaging encompasses many key technologies needed to address 5G requirements, meaning it has the ability to enable or slow down the 5G market. Developing RF SiPs for cellphones is highly dynamic, searching appropriate package architectures to allow denser die spacing and higher integration levels, low loss dielectrics and interconnects, means of integrating antennas-in-packages, shielding and more. Some of the explored architectures include advanced flip chip, fan-out and glass substrate solutions.

Beyond cellphones, obstacles also exist for wireless infrastructure in terms of significant technology changes and financial investments needed for installation of a large number of smaller local cells. Some of the challenges on the base station side include assuring signal quality, power efficiency, and thermal dissipation optimization. This puts pressure on power amplifier technology, smart antenna integration and cost, as well as packaging materials.

 

(Source: Advanced RF System-in-Package for Cell Phones, Yole Développement, Oct. 2017)

Source: www.yole.fr 

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