We have all heard about 5G communications networks, but what exactly is 5G and what benefits will it actually provide? 5G is short for 5th generation, and if you believe what the communication industry is saying: Fasten your seatbelt!
The Promise of 5G Networks
5G promises considerable improvements in speed, responsiveness, and scale in mobile communications, with download speeds in the gigabits-per-second range, around 50 times faster than existing 4G LTE technology. 5G technology will enable the connectivity between tens of billions of devices, smart objects, and embedded sensors coming online as the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes a reality.
5G brings three major technology-enabled benefits: a quantum leap in network capacity, the ability to control mission-critical systems in healthcare, transportation and manufacturing, and the ability to operate in network dense environments such as homes and apartments with dozens of connected devices and mobile technologies. Even the clothing we wear may be “on the network.”
Three emerging 5G technologies are:
- Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB): Data-driven use cases requiring high data rates across a wide coverage area.
- Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC): Strict requirements on latency and reliability for mission critical communications, such as remote surgery, autonomous vehicles or the Tactile Internet. Latency is the amount of time a signal is sent and received. In mission critical situations this must be minimal.
- Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC): To support an exceptionally large number of devices in a small area, which may only send data sporadically but must be fully capable at all times.
As the growth in these devices explodes, the need to expand the radio frequency bandwidth in a multi-modal environment is essential. Whereas existing 4G networks use radio frequencies below 6 GHz, 5G networks will use frequency waves up to 28 GHz and beyond in years to come, known in the industry as millimeter wave (mmWave). These frequencies have the advantage of sending signals very quickly and being able to carry up to 1000 times more data.
Higher Frequencies Mean Shorter Distances
One problem with mmWave networks is that communications do not travel as well in densely populated areas where buildings can interfere with signals. New networks will consist of “base station” antennas and a wireless “last mile” technology using Massive Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) technology.
In this scheme, base stations send a focused stream of data to a specific user rather than sending the signal in every direction. Full-duplex technology will allow send-and-receive signals to be sent simultaneously rather than one after the other, a major driver behind latency reductions expected with 5G.
New Antenna Technologies for 5G
Frequencies above 10 GHz provide plenty of bandwidth for high data rates. High frequencies must use shorter distances between antennas, which greatly increased the need for 5G base stations. Additionally, higher frequencies require new filtering and switching technologies.
Massive Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) requires antenna arrays to have a direct beam between sending and receiving signals. It also means that one data signal can be transmitted and received simultaneously over the same RF channel. While standard MIMO used today typically uses two or four antennas, Massive MIMO will require a much higher number of antennas. Current tests have looked at 96 to 128 antennas deployed in a MIMO network.
Full duplexing implemented as time division duplexing (TDD) means that signals can be transmitted and received at the same frequency, but at different times. Because of the simultaneous signaling and high-speed requirements for 5G, advanced switching circuitry is necessary.
Ceramic Materials Play a Critical Role
While many telecommunication components will go into 5G networks, certain materials with advanced electrical properties will play an essential role. Ceramic materials show promise in the construction of 5G antenna arrays. Currently used in RF and microwave dielectrics for filters and resonator antennas, the dielectric properties of technical ceramics are ideal for high frequency transmissions where a low dielectric constant, low dissipation loss and temperature stabilities are essential material properties. Ceramic antenna materials require temperature stability and ultra-low permittivity and ultra-high Qf value—the product of reciprocal dielectric loss (Q) and frequency (f). Low temperature co-fired ceramics (LTCC) and ultra-low sintering ceramics combine ferrite and dielectric materials to provide new 5G enabling technologies.
Evaluating Low Dielectric Ceramic Materials
Several low dielectric constant materials are being evaluated for ceramic capacitors and substrates in 5G antenna networks. These materials include cordierite, wadsleyite, eucryptite, Li2MgSiO4, forsterite, willemite, celsian, spinel and alumina. An industry standard for ultra-low loss tangent properties (called High Q) are found in barium-based perovskites containing tantalum, tungsten or niobium (BZT).
Analytical Tools Aid Evaluation and Characterization
Research laboratories and technical ceramic producers need easy-to-use techniques to identify and quantify the phase composition of ceramic materials. Because no material is 100% pure, these labs also need to track impurities and concentrations of dopants in chemical composition analysis. Benchtop X-ray diffractometers and X-ray fluorescence spectrometers provide the right capabilities and bench-friendly form factors for the analysis of ceramic materials.
A newly published application note looks at how the Thermo Scientific™ ARL™ EQUINOX 100 benchtop X-ray Diffractometer obtains data suitable for qualitative and quantitative (WPF) phase analysis of ceramic materials. This study looks at 5G antenna ceramic samples that contain phases desirable for use in frequency ranges above 10 GHz. Complementary results from the Thermo Scientific™ ARL™ EDXRF elemental analysis spectrometer reveal trace elements in order to provide full quality control of the 5G antenna ceramic materials.
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