The next step in 5G thermal materials, discussed by IDTechEx

BostonAnd the 30 June 2022 /PRNewswire/ – 5G is already a popular feature of modern smartphones, with the little logo making its way to the top corner of our screens. One would be forgiven if they thought that 5G is here and now an outdated technology, but 5G includes multiple frequency bands and is not yet equally deployed. While much of the “5G” infrastructure is a moderate upgrade to existing 4G technology, there are still many opportunities for higher frequency deployments such as mmWave devices and very different station types such as small cells. Each of these new developments presents its own technological sophistication and with it thermal challenges. Recent research by IDTechEx on the thermal management of 5G has found innovations in semiconductor technology (CMOS, SiGe, GaN, etc.), thermal interface materials, and mold attaching technology.

mmWave 5G: Condensing electronics leads to thermal challenges

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5G can be categorized into several frequency bands, with many reallocated to existing lower frequencies and some new bands up to 6GHz. This is where most of the deployments have taken place so far. But when people talk about potentially huge download rates and minimal latency, they are usually referring to millimeter wave (>20GHz) 5G. Here, there is still room for significant technological innovation and new publishing use cases.

Since the antenna spacing is half the signal’s wavelength, the higher frequency means that the antenna itself can be more compact, incorporating thousands of elements into a single beam at a fraction of the size of previous antenna technology. However, this condenses the distribution of the IC (integrated circuit), usually with the integrated circuit directly at the back of the antenna panel. The tight packaging of integrated circuits leads to increased heat dissipation and therefore thermal management challenges. Research by IDTechEx found that while most thermal interface materials (TIMs) in use today have a thermal conductivity of less than 4 W/m K, the requirements for future 5G devices can push this value to the limit. Range of 5 to 10 W / MK.

mmWave 5G: More antennas are needed

Another major challenge for high-frequency communication infrastructure is signal propagation. As the frequency increases, the signal is attenuated more easily, with the transmission range greatly reduced and the signal easily blocked by walls or windows. One solution to this problem is to use packet modulation to “target” users’ machines directly. This better signal control feeds into the aforementioned challenges about the embedded nature of high-performance integrated circuits on the antenna board.

However, this only goes so far. To achieve satisfactory coverage over large areas, more such antennas are needed. IDTechEx expects a 41-fold increase in annual mmWave antenna deployments by 2032 compared to its deployment in 2022. The antenna is extremely compact. This means that they can be deployed more easily and in more integrated formats (for example on street lighting) than previous infrastructures. Thanks to the need for more mmWave antennas, the markets for thermal materials containing them are expected to grow 5x in the next five years alone.

IDTechEx’s latest report on “Thermal Management of 5G” discusses 5G deployment trends and their impact on antenna design and selection of semiconductor technology, chip-interface materials and thermal interface materials. Technological aspects and market forecasts for the next ten years are included. Also, it takes into account various smartphones and how 5G integration affects thermal materials (interface and heat sink).

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