Mobile Devices

Report: Challenges remain for Apple’s 5G ambitions

23 October 2020

Apple Inc. has begun taking preorders for its first 5G iPhones, but challenges remain for the smartphone giant before mass adoption of 5G iPhones can occur, according to new research from IDTechEx.

Apple introduced its first line of 5G iPhones, called the iPhone 12, earlier this month and demonstrated a speed of up to 4 Gbps on the iPhone 12 Pro. While this will not be a typical speed for most consumers, it is a positive sign that 5G can provide the much-hyped speeds it has been boasting for years, IDTechEx said.

While the four new iPhone 12 5G smartphones offer a broad range of technology, including millimeter wave (mmWave) and sub-6 GHz technology, coverage remains limited. Deployments to cities are limited to certain areas of each city, which means that depending on the block or street a user is on, they might get a 5G connection or switched back to 4G technology. Overall, IDTechEx said most consumers won’t be using 5G services that often, at least not yet.

Coverage continues to be deployed rapidly worldwide despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing more consumers to connect to 5G in more places. However, it will still be a number of years before ubiquitous coverage, like 4G, is available.

The 5G industry is hoping that the fast deployment of 5G smartphones on the market will spark demand for the devices and accelerate deployment of 5G base stations. IDTechEx forecasts 430,000 new global installations of 5G base stations in 2020, and that number is expected to grow to more than 4 million by 2030. Apple’s entrance into the 5G market is also expected to boost the investment of telecoms into the technology as well as encourage adoption of the technology.

Power problems

The challenges of 5G power consumption still must be addressed by the market, IDTechEx warned. Namely, 5G signals consume significantly higher power than 4G smartphones, impacting battery life, thermal management and mobile lifespan. New power amplifier semiconductor technology, such as gallium nitride and die attach materials such as pressure-less silver sintering, may help in this arena and expected to see growth because of the rise in mmWave technology and devices.

Additionally, mmWave is the technology that will allow 5G to reach its full potential of delivering 10 times the download speeds, low latency and higher bandwidth for consumer and industrial applications. However, the technology currently has trouble connecting indoors. Without obstacles between mmWave and a mobile device, mmWave is fast. However, a tree, a building or walls could disconnect the service from the user. Sub-6 Ghz 5G technology can flow through obstacles easier and thus has been included among most of the deployments that telecoms and equipment companies have rolled out thus far. Verizon and other telecoms are already working on a solution including starting mmWave indoor trials to help accelerate the use of the technology.

Signal loss

This transmission loss is another challenge not only facing Apple, but any other smartphone vendor or telecom deploying mmWave 5G technology.

Materials such as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) have demonstrated good performance for high-frequency applications and demand is increasing due to the deployment of 5G. But these materials are expensive and can present challenges in printed circuit board (PCB) production or advanced packaging.

As a result, much like Verizon’s testing of indoor mmWave, the race is on to develop new materials as an alternative to PTFE, such as modified thermoset materials, polyphenylene oxide (PPO), hydrocarbon or even polyimide aerogel.

Learn more about IDTechEx’s findings with its 5G Research.

To contact the author of this article, email PBrown@globalspec.com


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