RF design implications for 5G devices

Tuesday, 21 July, 2020

RF design implications for 5G devices

Tech market research companies ABI Research and Yole have done a teardown of nine, second-generation 5G smartphones to discover that RF front end (RFFE) content is evidently moving to full level, integrated modem-RF system designs.

The companies say this will be the key to success as the market advances to wider 5G adoption.

The move to 5G requires an integration of the entire 5G cellular system design into OEMs’ devices, from modem-to-antenna, addressing all aspects of end-to-end performance.

This complexity level includes the integration and deployment of new 5G modem and RFFE components, features and functionalities, leading to substantial changes in the design of mobile devices.

“Smartphone OEMs are finding this change particularly challenging, as it makes their RFFE component procurement process and system design far more complex than ever,” said David McQueen, Research Director at ABI Research.

“Unless adequately addressed, the burden brought about by the complexities of implementing 5G can lead to several issues, including lengthy product development cycles, more expensive devices and huge constraints on device industrial designs.”

OEMs will have to rationalise the delegation of modem-RF system procurement to a handful of suppliers and, most importantly, make sure they pick the right partner.

“Notably, it needs to be one with a well-proven, tested or validated rich RFFE portfolio and a comprehensive 5G roadmap. The delegation brings several advantages, many of which have become increasingly stark as the device market transitions to 5G,” McQueen said.

The teardowns show there are already signs that several OEMs are moving away from RF component assembly and adopting 5G design from modem-to-antenna.

“Such a strategic approach has been carried out by few component suppliers in the market, thus far. Qualcomm is currently the only one able to offer an end-to-end product portfolio from modem-to-antenna, supplying products with end-to-end performance in fully integrated system designs,” McQueen said.

“Third-party modem-RF system design will become a mainstream approach in support of many of the world’s top smartphone OEMs to solve their 5G conundrum, also influencing decision-making across all technologies, so Qualcomm is likely to be joined by others IF they can offer such turnkey solutions,” he added.

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