5G Hardware predictions
Posted on 13/02/2018
Market predictions for 5G fixed assets
There is a consensus among most of the major players that the 5G infrastructure market will grow very rapidly during the period leading up to deployment and immediately afterwards, although estimates of the rate of this growth can vary considerably. The drivers are said to include a growing demand for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) devices, which need low latency, and a continued growth in demand for high-speed connectivity for existing types of devices like smartphones and tablets. Additionally 5G will enable a whole raft of new cellular-enabled use cases including autonomous cars and massive M2M communications, as well as mission-critical IoT applications. Last-mile delivery of fixed broadband services is also proving an early testing ground for 5G technology, including mmWave frequencies. However, delay in standardising the spectrum allocations for 5G is cited as a factor that may restrain the growth of the 5G infrastructure market.
One aspect that is rapidly changing is the architecture of the network infrastructure, which is becoming both more intelligent and more configurable. New technologies such as network function virtualisation (NFV) and mobile-edge computing (MEC) mean that most of the digital functionality of the (software-defined) networks will reside on generic data servers, with only the radio hardware being applications-specific. The radios themselves are becoming commoditised, as the sheer volume required for the necessary densification of cells will accelerate the downward pressure on price.
Markets and Markets estimates the 5G infrastructure market will be valued at $2.86 billion in 2020, and is further expected to reach $33.72 billion by 2026, corresponding to a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 50.9%.
Skyworks is forecasting even higher growth, based on a report by Occam: between 2019 and 2025, it expects the 5G network infrastructure market to grow aggressively at a CAGR of nearly 70%, eventually accounting for $28 billion in annual spending by the end of 2025. SNS Research broadly agrees with these figures, with a slightly lower estimate for the 2025 figure, saying that expenditure on 5G infrastructure will by then account for 40% of the total wireless infrastructure market.
Figure 1 (below) compares the market forecasts of four different analysts on a scatter graph.
The role of compound semiconductors
Even in 4G base stations, GaN has been taking over the slots traditionally filled by LDMOS at a fairly rapid rate, due to its superior efficiency, power density and linearity, especially as the commercialisation of GaN-on-Si has reduced the cost to a comparable level. Wolfspeed has estimated verbally that around 40% of 4G radios already use GaN devices in the transmitter PAs. The more complex technologies being developed for 5G, including massive MIMO and beamforming, will mean that GaN will be the device technology of choice for sub-6GHz base station PAs, and several compound semiconductor device vendors have already launched 5G-ready products for this application. Both Infineon and Mitsubishi launched new ranges of GaN HEMT transistors in the 3.5GHz candidate band for 5G at European Microwave Week. There has also been significant work on devices at the proposed mmWave frequency bands around 26GHz, 28GHz, 37GHz and 39GHz, although – with the exception of devices from Qorvo – these are in GaAs rather than GaN.
MACOM has put forward the possibility of multi-function, multi-technology 5G front ends for the frequencies below 6GHz, made possible by the use of the silicon substrate. It says the homogenous integration of GaN devices and CMOS-based devices on a single silicon chip will offer the prospect of multi-function, digitally-assisted RF MMICs incorporating on-chip digital control and calibration and also on-chip power distribution networks. MACOM has also made it clear that its newly-announced manufacturing agreement with ST Microelectronics is intended to provide the scalability needed to make GaN-on-Si technology truly competitive with the silicon supply chain.
Players with a UK presence that are already involved in designs for 5G infrastructure include Teledyne, which is working with a Tier 1 vendor on E-band fixed wireless access, and Filtronic Broadband, which has designed a 26GHz 5G front-end module platform in collaboration with Plextek RFI as well as working on high-capacity E-band and W-band backhaul for 5G.