No matter how advanced modern mobile network technology has become, there is always a desire for networks to be faster and more stable. This is especially so, considering the enormous number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices being launched every year. With the world being so reliant on internet connectivity to function efficiently and aspirations of having everything automated in the name of progression, the anticipation for the 5G mobile network has reached an all-time high.
The high-speed 5G connection that operates in the high-band or millimetre wave (mmWave) from 24GHz to 100 GHz, promises the transfer of data that will be faster than ever before, at ultra-fast speeds in fact.
This also suggests that businesses expanding their reach via the 5G network must re-examine their printed circuit board (PCB) design to facilitate efficient connectivity, with both digital and analogue signals to ensure transmission of high-frequency data. If they want to avoid typical 4G latency issues that often lead to weak signal and sudden connection drop, product or service designers must rethink the design of PCBs to optimise mobile, IoT, and telecommunications devices in this new 5G era.
5G Offers a Wider Spectrum & Faster Speeds
One of the most important factors that contribute to the supremacy of 5G connection is the width of the channel connecting a device and a network. Imagine it as the width of a pipe. The wider the pipe, the better the flow. The same applies for a wider channel, as more data can pass through without congestion. In more technical terms, 5G has a wider radio spectrum. Measured in megahertz (MHz), individual channels in 5G can be as wide as 100 MHz, nearly five times the bandwidth of a 4G connection which usually ranges from 1 MHz to 20 MHz.
The 5G network has three types of spectrum bands that service providers can utilise to create more services:
- Low-band spectrum (less than 1GHz) - enables wider coverage but lower speeds.
- Mid-band spectrum (1GHz to 6GHz) - offers a balance of speed and coverage.
- High-band spectrum (24GHz to 40GHz) - offers higher speeds but at a smaller radius of coverage.
The high-band spectrum which uses Extremely High Frequency (EHF) presents the most in terms of challenges to PCB designers. To support this magnitude of frequencies, unique PCBs with Massive MIMO technology must be integrated into multiple phased-array antennas to enable 5G features.
Adding to this complexity is the importance of material selection for PCB designs. Because the radio frequency's front end is integrated on the PCB, only materials with very low dielectric transmission loss and extremely high thermal conductivity can be used.
How Fast is 5G
The speed of 5G when compared to 4G is a whole new standard altogether. Take for example the downloading of HD movies. When done via 5G, the download will save you approximately 41 minutes as compared to downloading the same HD movie via 4G; that is almost 90 per cent faster. But as mentioned earlier, it all boils down to the spectrum and which of the three bands the device is tapping on, as different bands offer different coverage and speeds to suit different usage.
Low band – The spectrum frequency is usually between 600 MHz and 900 MHz. Although only slightly faster than 4G, it has wider coverage. 5G's speed ranges between 50 Mbps to 250 Mbps, while 4G typically runs at a maximum of 100 Mbps. Many cities in the United States use an 850 MHz low-band 5G network offered by operators such as AT&T.
Mid-band – The frequencies range between 1 Ghz and 6 GHz, offering speeds between 100 Mbps and 900 Mbps. As a reference, South Korea, which happens to be the first country to launch a 5G mobile network, is using a network that is able to reach up to speeds of approximately 400 Mbps. Downloading 1 GB worth of data only takes mere seconds.
High-band – This spectrum offers ultra-fast connections with top speeds reaching up to 3 Gbps. However, the limitation of such a spectrum is the short distance coverage and the possibility of disruption by buildings, glass, and foliage. It works best within 1,000 feet of a 5G base station, outdoors, near windows, or inside buildings equipped with mmWave small cells. That said, the high-band spectrum is the most appropriate for specialised usages such as within industrial sites, shopping malls, and campuses.
In a nutshell, low-band 5G spectrum is most suitable for broader coverage in more rural areas while high-band mmWave can offer more efficiency to urban and industrial zones where smaller communities can leverage the high performance. The mid-band spectrum seems to be hitting the 5G sweet spot because it is an attractive compromise between the other two.
Where and When can We have 5G?
It is estimated that there will be 3.6 billion 5G connections by 2025 and 4.4 billion by 2027. Reportedly, 493 operators in 150 countries and territories have invested in 5G. Of those, 214 operators had launched one or more 5G services.
At present, the top 10 countries with the most extensive 5G coverage to date are:
- South Korea
- The United States
- The United Kingdom
- Saudi Arabia
Areas of Impact
Where is 5G going to make the most impact? According to T-Mobile, 5G can dramatically revolutionise four industries in the coming years:
Healthcare – Telehealth, remote surgery, post-surgery care, and remote monitoring processes will scale new heights with the arrival of 5G networks. The introduction of 5G-enabled wearables will also enable healthcare professionals to advance preventive care.
Manufacturing and warehouse management – 5G optimises the adoption of robotic tools and automation processes. This means better work safety enhancement, reduction of plant infrastructure, and extra cost-savings.
Field Operations – 5G enhanced mobile broadband can offer a lifeline by enabling real-time virtual collaboration and consultation when there are barriers like time or distance. More 5G-enabled augmented reality (AR) tools are likely to be launched to assist such processes too.
Agriculture – 5G can help collect raw data to improve farming techniques and launch more cost-effective initiatives. Experimental technologies like 5G-enabled drone deployments for monitoring crops may soon be an agricultural norm.
Developing a sustainable product with PCI
With 5G bringing instant and reliable communication across various product segments to support new and existing applications, it will require the services of an experienced electronics manufacturing services (EMS) provider to help add value to your products in the 5G space. With more than 50 years of industry experience, PCI is highly equipped to help you design and manufacture sub-6 GHzÂ as well as integrate their respective antennas into your 5G related products. With our knowledge and expertise in 5G RF design, troubleshooting, performance measurement, optimisation, and certification, we are well positioned to help our customers get to market quickly and ensure that their products meet the highest standards for quality and performance.
For businesses seeking the services of an EMS provider, you can either email or call us to discuss a project, and we will outline what we can do for you, how much it will cost, and the timeline in which we will have it completed. Our dedicated customer service team will provide a comprehensive proposal customised to your requirements.
With 5G technology being implemented globally, product designers and manufacturers must proactively create new 5G-enabled devices or recalibrate their existing products for 5G-ready to capture the tech-hungry market. However, it is not always easy to develop new product and PCB designs to suit the 5G network characterised by high speed, wide bandwidth, and low latency. Thankfully, working with an experienced EMS provider such as PCI that has advanced knowledge in printed circuit board assembly can easily expedite the development process and shorten the lead-time for market launch. In addition, clients can also tap on PCI's strength in product design verification, firmware development, and radio wave engineering to stay abreast with the market.