The coronavirus pandemic appears to have not slowed down the roll out of fifth-generation (5G) wireless technology, and high-end polymers continue to play a key role in building out the infrastructure needed to realize the benefits of these ultrafast data networks.
Ericsson, one of the world’s biggest provider of telecom equipment, just issued a new report, revising upward yet again their estimates for the number of 5G mobile phone subscriptions around the world by the end of 2020 to 218 million. This is a sharp increase from their forecast of 190 million this past June, which itself was an increase from an earlier estimate. The Swedish networking giant, whose equipment goes into a lot of the hardware needed for 5G, predicts that this super-fast technology will cover about 60% of the global population by 2026.
Additionally, the Consumer Technology Association’s “U.S. Consumer Technology One-Year Industry Forecast” predicts that 5G-enabled smartphones will contribute $43.8 billion in revenues in 2021, up 296% from this year. CTA’s research further suggests that U.S. shipments of 5G-smartphones will hit 65 million units by the end of 2021, and reach 173 billion by 2024.
Even so, most agree that 5G technology will impact our lives and many industries well beyond mobile telecommunications. It will help to enable safer autonomous driving, advance augmented reality, facilitate factory automation, enhance tele-medicine, and revolutionize the entertainment industry by, for example, allowing users to download high-definition movies in seconds.
Materials suppliers are working diligently to develop the resins and compounds needed to accommodate the high heat, durability and transparency specifications required in 5G-related printed circuit boards (PCBs) and base stations. Here are just a few recent developments:
Clariant says its phosphorus-based flame retardants from the Exolit® OP and Exolit EP lines have all the right characteristics for supporting the necessary properties in high-speed, high-frequency PCBs and making the 5G standard a reality. Available both as liquid processable product (Exolit EP) and very fine powders (Exolit OP), their high content of phosphorus, which can also be synergized with other flame retardants, gives them high efficiency at low doses. With their high thermal stability, they are suitable for lead-free assembly and packaging of electronics, and able to “stand the heat” when 5G transmission runs hot.
Kaneka Corp. has developed Pixeo™ IB, a super heat-resistant polyimide film for high-speed, high frequency 5G. Pixeo™ IB reduces the dielectric loss tangent in high frequencies down to 0.0025, the global best level for polyimide film. This makes possible the handling of 5G millimeter wave zones, which can realize high-speed communications.
Toray Industries Inc. has created a polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) film that maintains the polymer’s dielectric characteristics, flame retardancy and chemical robustness while remaining thermally resistant at 40°C. The Tokyo-based firm says the new film resists deformation and is dimensionally stable near its melting point. In flexible printed circuits for 5G applications, the film is said to cut transmission losses of communication devices at high frequencies and stabilizes high-speed communication across temperature and humidity spectrums.
Dow Inc. recently introduced a one-part, thermally conductive gel developed to dissipate high amounts of heat away from sensitive electronic components. DOWSIL™ TC-3065 Thermal Gel easily fills gaps due to its excellent wetting ability and can replace fabricated elastomeric thermal pads that may fail to protect electronics from the high heat associated with 5G’s greater power densities.
SABIC says it plans to boost global production capacity for its specialty Noryl SA9000 polyphenylene ether (PPE) resin used in high-performance printed circuit boards that require copper-clad laminates (CCLs) used in 5G base stations. This latest expansion, which builds on 2019 increases, will nearly double regional production in Asia and increase overall Noryl SA9000 resin production in Asia tenfold vs. 2018 levels. The expansion project is currently under way in India, with completion expected by year’s end, the Saudi company says.
Meantime, SABIC also says its portfolio includes other specialized materials for 5G base stations, terminals and mobile devices, including LNP™ compounds and copolymers, Ultem™ resin, and NORYL™ resins and oligomers. These materials are said to address major industry challenges such as improving heat management and radio frequency (RF) performance, reducing weight, and cost and raising production yields.
So, as the 5G revolution gets into full swing, rest assured that plastics suppliers are at the forefront, helping to make it happen.