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Challenging Engineers’ Perceptions of Cabling and Interconnects in a 5G Future

Parent Category: 2019 HFE

By Masaru Omoto

5G is not just an incremental improvement over 4G; it’s the next major evolution of mobile communication technology with performance improvements of an order of magnitude over today’s networks. 5G does not simply replace 4G; it will importantly enable a wider diversity of tasks that 4G is unable to perform and opens the doors to implementation and deployment of IoT (Internet of Things).

Beyond the fundamental but highly technological challenges of ensuring that a mass rollout of the 5G network will work, there are several significant hurdles that will continually need to be overcome by operators. For example, frequency spectrum availability is not limitless, with the radio frequencies of 3G and 4G increasingly crowded; ultimately, 5G will have to operate at even higher frequencies to deliver the faster data speeds. This brings into play the mmWave band, which has its own unique challenges with the issues of reliability and ruggedness of cabling as a key hurdle. Interconnects have gained a reputation as the weakest link in a system, especially when operating at the limit of performance. A new generation of cables has been developed that will stand up to the rigours of higher frequencies and in environments with high temperature and flexure. The challenge for companies like Junkosha who continue to deliver these solutions – is how do we change engineers’ perceptions of cabling and interconnects into the future?

Where is 5G now?

The standards body that writes the rules and regulations for wireless connectivity, the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), developed the first specifications for 5G in late 2017. The non-standalone specification of 5G New Radio Standard covered the 600 and 700 MHz bands and the 50 GHz mmWave end of the spectrum. The agreement paved the way for hardware makers to begin the development of handsets with 5G modems inside. However, the non-standalone specifications still apply to 5G developed with LTE as an anchor.

This was followed up in June 2018 whereby the 3GPP completed the rules around standalone 5G. This enabled network operators to fine-tune their software using equipment that complies with the complete standard. The state of play currently is that we are beginning to see 5G devices enter the marketplace – Samsung and Apple have both developed 5G ready mobile phones for example. However, due to 5G not being rolled out everywhere, 5G devices will have to be able to connect with existing LTE networks, and this will continue to be the case for some time to come.

mmWave requirements explained

Thanks to the development of 5G, the demand for mmWave frequencies is no longer the preserve of military and space-age applications; instead, it is now being demanded in mainstream technologies. Presently, demands are being made for frequencies around 40 GHz, but this will only increase as further technological innovations come on to the market.

At the mmWave frequency level, path loss presents a key issue; obstacles such as vegetation, walls and (even) glass, as well as the general interference, encountered in urban environments; all have a significant effect. In addition, enabling a future of machine-to-machine communications ultimately means far more connected devices than we have today. Subsequently, the greatly reduced latency required to enable real-time applications must be addressed. Lastly, the requirement to generate significantly more power presents a considerable hurdle for the interconnect manufacturer since a higher insertion loss is a fact of life at the mmWave level for cable assemblies.

To enable systems to deliver the required outputs at the higher mmWave frequency, “phase performance that endures” is a statement that the cabling and interconnects used must live up to, especially in the test and measurement environment. At these frequencies, interconnects are very small, as a consequence, connector design is a complicated activity. In addition, the amount of bending and stress the cabling is placed under is significant, resulting in an environment that requires phase stable cables to be installed. After all, if the cabling is the first thing to let the engineer down, it remains the most system critical element in terms of reliability. This is why it is so important that engineers use cabling and interconnects that have been built for the 5G world.

Junkosha’s cabling for the 5G world explained

Over the last 12 months, Junkosha has launched a number of high-end mmWave cabling solutions including the MWX004, MWX051, MWX061 and MWX071 that reach 130 GHz at their highest specification. Available with ruggedised NMD connector assemblies to deliver reliable and robust connections to the Vector Network Analyser (VNA), these new interconnect solutions have been designed to withstand the most rigorous of testing environments for periods of approximately three and a half years1. All feature characteristics including advanced phase stability, the highest performing dielectric material and high flex life thanks to Junkosha’s precision engineered expanded-PTFE tape wrapping technology.

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MWX061 with connector.

In a future where both humans and devices will require wireless connectivity, such as IoT sensors throughout smart buildings and cities, alongside connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) on smart highways, the world will need increased capacity for 5G networks. This calls for both an amplification of, and more efficient use of, the available frequency spectrum through the application of innovative technologies. Designed for applications including LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) based systems such as CAVs, Junkosha’s latest interconnects provide VNA manufacturers with the capability to test very high-frequency networks that are at the heart of tomorrow’s highly sophisticated systems.

What are the applications?

One of the biggest differentiators between 5G and previous cellular connectivity is that it is designed to interconnect devices, machines and people closer than ever before, also referred to as the IoT. In addition to consumer applications, the commercial world will see massive change. To start with, organisations will now be generating enormous amounts of data which needs to be transferred quickly.

One application that has been making headlines over the past few years is autonomous or self-driving vehicles. There is still a long way to go before these become mainstream, but they should improve road safety and reduce the number of collisions taking place annually. Challenges include being able to visualise and interpret everything occurring around their vicinity in real-time, which demands extremely low latency. This can be achieved through the use of multiple cameras and sensors attached to the vehicle, in addition to being installed on buildings and roads for example.

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Smart cities are another key area that 5G connectivity could make a reality. Activities and trials have been taking place but there isn’t a single city that can truly claim to be ‘smart’ just yet. A clear definition still doesn’t exist that perfectly describes a smart city. Generally, the term has been used alongside IoT, to improve the quality of life for humans through interconnected smart technology such as smart phones, wearables and household appliances. Pressures from congestion and pollution have meant that city officials urgently need to take action to reduce climate change, which is where smart technology could come in to improve efficiency and reduce overall costs.

The use of mmWave frequencies in 5G systems such as those around connected and autonomous vehicles, smart cities and other machine-to-machine devices will be essential to enable higher data rates and the transfer of large amounts of data. As a result, major telecommunications service providers are specifying components required for 5G networks, including highly sophisticated cabling interconnect solutions that endure at the highest frequency levels.

The fast-approaching broad deployment of 5G networks will necessitate sophisticated instrument testing and cabling of the highest quality to ensure the faster connections, higher throughput, and greater capacity inherent in the promise of 5G.

What does the future hold?

The future is connected! Millions of connected devices are set to enter the marketplace. Not only will it boost efficiency, but it will also enable us to explore developing technologies well into the 2020s and 2030s. Anticipated technologies include connected and autonomous cars, smart cities and the Internet of Things which will bring with it a huge amount of devices that require connection to the wireless network for the operation of immersive entertainment (virtual and augmented reality) and the ability to benefit from big data, thanks to unprecedented transfer speeds.

Whether we like it or not, 5G is part of all of our futures, and we need to embrace it. It won’t stop at the horizon either. We are frequently asked for cabling solutions that surpass current speeds and frequencies, moving us to a world we can barely imagine.

However, with significant change comes significant challenges that will affect us all. The cabling and interconnects, often cited as the weakest link of many systems, is the focus of future innovation. Operating at mmWave frequencies since the mid-1980s, Junkosha was one of the few organisations that foresaw the need for these high-end frequencies beyond that of military applications. With long sighted vision comes major breakthroughs; innovating the future through technologies for 5G will bring about a wireless network that will change the mobile telecoms space forever.

Reference

1. This is based on an internal Tick Tock test of 30,000 cycles, which equates to 30 tests per day, five days per week for 3.8 years (Except MWX004).

1908 HFE cables fg03About the Author

MWX Product Manager Masaru Omoto has been with Junkosha for nine years. Masaru is an integral part of the international development team that consistently delivers market leading innovations that provide “phase performance that endures.”

August 2019

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