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Hidden opportunity emerges from low-loss materials for 5G | Computer Weekly

Made possible by the emergence and mass roll-out of 5G, fixed wireless access (FWA) deployment is attracting increasing interest by enterprises as a true alternative to cable and fibre broadband, and 5G FWA is also seen as a potential key driver for a boom in low-loss materials in 5G customer premises equipment (CPEs), according to a study from IDTechEx.

Low-loss materials are integral in enabling advanced 5G antennas-in-packages (AiP) for smartphones, and, said IDTechEx’s Low-loss materials for 5G and 6G 2023-2033 report, while 5G FWA sounds incredibly promising – expected to offer data transfer rates competitive with fibre broadband connections without the complexities introduced by fibre installation – it still faces challenges in its real-life application.

IDTechEx said that improvements in performance through next-generation 5G FWA products can be partly attributed to the expected use of mmWave 5G frequency bands (greater than 24GHz), plus advanced antenna technologies such as massive MIMO and beamforming, yet a major challenge exists in that mmWave radio transmission struggles with high-transmission losses, which decreases its coverage area.

Additionally, mmWave 5G signals are susceptible to disruption from environmental factors such as rain and foliage. While advanced antenna technologies can help alleviate these issues, they are often expensive to implement, which is undesirable for a technology with limited commercial deployment such as 5G FWA. Clearly, said IDTechEx, the high-transmission losses inherent with mmWave 5G present barriers to the global installation and propagation of 5G FWA.

Given the need to decrease transmission losses for 5G FWA, IDTechEx said low-loss materials will need to be extensively utilised in the PCBs and RF componentry of customer premises equipment (CPE) market to reduce signal loss, especially for mmWave 5G.

It said that while sub-6GHz 5G CPEs using incumbent dielectric materials like epoxy-based laminates exist, their performance is inadequate for mmWave 5G CPEs, whose higher data speeds are needed for the broader implementation of 5G FWA. Incumbent materials are also said to be less suitable for the miniaturisation of RF components, which are needed in CPEs to keep their smaller footprint.

The study emphasises that CPEs are integral for the future expansion of the 5G and FWA network into homes and businesses. It said that its 5G market 2023-2033: Technology, trends, forecasts, players study predicts the total revenue for 5G FWA will reach nearly $300bn by 2033, and low-loss materials for 5G FWA will act as an important driver for a $1.8bn 5G CPE market.

That said, IDTechEx cautions that such emerging low-loss materials will still face challenges. While suppliers will want to utilise ultra-low-loss materials to increase their CPEs’ performance, such materials are also quite expensive, and this could make installing 5G CPEs in every home or business economically unviable.

Ultimately, though, IDTechEx said there is a reason why so many major 5G suppliers, such as Samsung, Nokia and Huawei, are launching their own CPEs, and with millions of potential CPE installations in future years, 5G FWA may grow to be a hundreds-of-billions dollar market.

It predicts that 5G CPEs – with installation numbers closer to 5G smartphones and materials usage closer to small base stations – are a majorly underrated application for low-loss materials.

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