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5G Raises Handset-RF Complexity

September 11, 2018

Author: Bob Wheeler

As if LTE wasn’t bad enough, 5G adds new bands in spectrum never before used in mobile handsets. To increase data rates, much of this spectrum is allocated in greater bandwidths—as much as 800MHz. The new 3.5GHz bands merely stretch technology already used by LTE at up to 2.6GHz. Jumping an order of magnitude in frequency, however, millimeter-wave bands demand a new approach.

A smartphone’s RF front end (RFFE) contains many components, but they increasingly come in front-end modules (FEMs) that integrate all functions between the antennas and the transceiver for a given frequency range. Qualcomm and Skyworks are first to announce 3.5GHz FEMs for 5G New Radio (5G-NR). The greatest challenge in scaling to 3.5GHz is delivering wider bandwidths than what LTE employs.

The millimeter-wave spectrum allocated for 5G across most regions is 24–28GHz. Supporting this spectrum in a smartphone presents many new challenges including antenna-array placement, power output, and transceiver interfacing. Qualcomm is first to announce a millimeter-wave RF module for 5G-NR, although Intel has shown prototypes of its radio. Operators are racing to provide the first mobile 5G service, and OEMs should deliver the first smartphones for 5G-NR in 1H19.

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