Larger networks, more applications, and more dynamic infrastructure fuel 5G impact on demand for electronic components.

More than two years have passed since 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project), the international organization overseeing global cellular standards, approved standalone 5G specifications. The move marked another step toward 5G commercialization — following the approval of non-standalone 5G specifications in 2017 — and promised to significantly impact demand for electronic components.   Since then, a lot has happened and more changes are coming. Let’s take a look:

5G networks launch across the globe

Companies around the world began implementing 5G in 2018. Among the early adopters that year: Elisa, a Finnish telecom company that launched Finland’s first commercial 5G network in Tampere, Finland, and Tallinn, Estonia, while also selling 5G subscriptions. In the United States, major telecom companies such as AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile followed suit last year with the implementation of 5G fixed wireless and mobile networks in different cities. And China Telecom is currently running tests of 5G networks in six major Chinese cities and expects to launch a fully commercialized 5G network this year. 

Understanding how 5G impacts demand for electronic components

The impact of 5G on current and future applications will drive increased demand for electronic components. With less than 1 millisecond latency and a peak data rate of 20 GB per second, 5G will enable and speed up the development of self-driving cars, the Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality, and smart cities. It’s estimated that by 2023, 600 million 5G devices will be connected worldwide, ushering in a new era for the electronics industry. 

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(Applications for 5G, Source: IEEE)

RFFE modules

A key module that allows devices to connect with the mobile network is radio frequency front-end (RFFE). The RFFE is the functional area of a mobile handset which allows the handset to send and receive data. If the RFFE module falters, the device won’t be able to connect to mobile networks.  

Although unfamiliar to most consumers, the RFFE is one of the most critical modules for mobile handset designers. 5G networks require devices to support radio frequency ranges from 600 MHz to 71 GHz, depending on location. With 5G, RFFE module requirements will be more complicated and dynamic.

Typically, an RFFE module consists of power amplifiers (PAs), low noise amplifiers (LNAs), switches, duplexers, filters, and other passive components. The requirement to support wider frequency bands and faster mobile broadband speeds has in recent years dramatically increased the cost of RFFE content in mobile devices. 

High-volume smartphones

To really understand how 5G impacts demand for electronic components, take a look at the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ phones,  the first high-volume smartphones that support Category (Cat) 16 LTE with a download speed of 1 GB per second. Each device carries over $25 worth of RFFE components, occupying almost 10% of its PCB real estate. In comparison, a Samsung Galaxy S5 has less than $15 worth of RFFE components and only uses 6% of PCB real estate. According to Yole, the RFFE components market is expected to reach $22.7 billion in 2022, driving increased demand for Pas, LNAs, switches, duplexers, filters, and passive components. 

Mobile handsets

In addition to RFFE modules, it’s expected that 5G mobile handsets will carry displays that support 4K (3840 x 2160) or even 8K (7680 x 4320) screens to accommodate virtual reality functions.  Smartphone makers may also double the memory chip used in 5G smartphones, giving consumers more space to download and use apps. Micron estimated that by 2021, 5G smartphones will carry an average of 142GB of NAND flash storage compared to 4G smartphones that include an average of 43 GB of NAND flash storage. 

The 5G impact on demand for electronic components will bring revolutionary changes to the industry. How does your organization plan to stay ahead of the curve?

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