Google ignores the rulebook and adopts an alternate 5G mmWave solution for smartphones

5G mmWave not only is alive in the USA and Japan but is gaining momentum in multiple other regions across the world. 5G mmWave is now considered as a complementary technology to 5G at frequencies below 6 GHz. Its unmatched performance is enabling more use cases. Notably, it has greatly improved downlink and, more importantly, uplink capabilities. Even though smartphone applications have been driving innovations mainly on the downlink side, the advent of a decent uplink will open a bunch of new possibilities.

System Plus Consulting and Yole Développement have been following the RF electronics industry for some time. Step by step, they have developed dedicated expertise in this domain by identifying the latest innovations and analyzing the market trends and companies’ strategies. Today, the two companies offer a special focus on 5G mmWave technologies for smartphones, making the link with the market’s evolution and identifying the underlying business opportunities. By combining their market and technical knowledge, Stéphane Elisabeth, Ph.D., Senior Technology and Cost Analyst at System Plus Consulting; Cédric Malaquin and Cyril Buey, both Technology and Market Analyst in Radio Frequency and Wireless Communication at Yole, investigate the latest 5G mmWave innovations in a market led by Qualcomm until now. New players are coming. The goalposts are moving. Our analysts offer you a snapshot based on a comprehensive collection of RF electronics reports and monitors: Cellular RF Front-End Technologies for Mobile Handset, Google Pixel 6 Pro 5G mmWave Chipset, RF Front-End Module Comparison, Smartphone Design Win Quarterly Monitor and Smartphone RF Quarterly Market Monitor 2021

Google is one of the more interesting smartphone manufacturers to track. The company is used to introducing breakthrough technologies. The radar motion sensor on the Pixel 4 is one of those. In that context, System Plus consulting already came across the newly launched Pixel 6 Pro, which supports 5G mmWave. A winning bet as the teardown highlights multiple key points.

First, it marks the commercial entrance of Samsung in a market in which Qualcomm had a monopoly. As depicted in figure 1, Samsung is providing all the key components of the system: the modem, the intermediate frequency transceiver, the mmWave RF transceiver, as well as the power management IC. Second, Murata is taking care of the AiP (Antenna in Package) assembly leveraging its in-house state-of-the-art MetroCircTM substrate.

The result is an innovative, flexible antenna design enabling two radiation directions (rear and side) from a unique component, including a fully used 16-channel transceiver, an industry first as competing solutions are based on two components, each featuring a partially used 16 channel transceiver. Last but not least, innovation takes place inside the mmWave antenna package itself as shown in figure 2. The mmWave RF transceiver has been designed on Samsung’s FDSOI 28nm platform (28FDS). Another industry first. Why is it important?

The 5G mmWave market is emerging and poised for high double-digit growth as shown in figure 3. The market research & strategy consulting company, Yole, expects the AiP and mmWave front-end module market to be worth $2.7 billion by 2026. With the introduction of FDSOI into this market, Samsung, using FDSOI substrates from Soitec, is bringing a serious alternative to Qualcomm’s bulk CMOS. This will likely propel 5G mmWave adoption.

In its latest cellular RF Front-End report, Yole expected a new entrant and FDSOI to penetrate the market as early as 2022. FDSOI is an ideal technology for 5G mmWave applications. It offers a fully integrated approach regrouping intermediate frequency conversion to mmWave signal (and vice/versa) and mmWave RF Front End including the transmit and the receive paths. Besides this undeniable integration advantage of mixed signal and RF circuitry, FDSOI comes as a good technology for RF applications providing sufficient power level at mmWave frequencies with state-of-the-art power efficiencywhich directly translates into low heat dissipation and better battery life. And high-power level capability will enable a better radio link budget with the base stations, thus a better quality of service.

Yole and System Plus consulting’s RF electronics teams will keep tracking this exciting market.

Stay tuned!

About the authors

Stéphane Elisabeth, Ph.D., is a Senior Technology and Cost Analyst at System Plus Consulting, part of Yole Développement (Yole). Stéphane regularly works on numerous reverse engineering and costing reports while also managing custom projects in the RF electronics and advanced packaging fields.

His mission at System Plus Consulting is to provide an in-depth understanding of the technologies selected by the leading semiconductor companies, as well as the ecosystem around a device.

In this context, Stéphane is leading a strategic watch to identify the latest innovative devices and collaborates closely with System Plus Consulting’s laboratory to analyze devices and components. His aim is to reveal the link between functionality and the technical choice made by the device maker.

Prior to this collaboration with System Plus Consulting, Stéphane worked on projects in partnership with THALES for the development of innovative hybrid RF circuits. He also regularly publishes articles and interviews within key RF electronics and packaging magazines.

Stéphane holds an engineering degree in electronics and numerical technology (Université de Nantes, France) as well as a Ph.D. in Materials for Microelectronics (Université de Nantes, France).

As a Senior Technology & Market Analyst specializing in RF devices & technologies within the Power & Wireless division at Yole Développement (Yole), Cédric Malaquin is involved in the development of technology & market reports as well as the production of custom consulting projects.

Prior to his mission at Yole, Cédric first served Soitec as a process integration engineer for 9 years, then as an electrical characterization engineer for 6 years. He contributed in-depth to FDSOI and RFSOI product characterization. He has also authored or co-authored three patents and five international publications in the semiconductor field.

Cédric graduated from Polytech Lille in France with an engineering degree in microelectronics and material sciences.

Cyril Buey, PhD., is a Technology and Market Analyst in Radio Frequency and Wireless Communication at Yole Développement (Yole). As a member of the Power & Wireless Division at Yole, Cyril is dedicated to the development of technology and market report in the field of telecommunication infrastructure and networks.
Prior to Yole, Cyril worked at NSE as an Electronics Engineer, then he evolves on a project manager position to develop aeronautics and defense products.
Cyril holds a master’s degree in Microelectronics, Nanotechnologies and Telecom from Lille University (France) and a PhD in Electronics, Antenna and Propagation from the University Nice Côte d’Azur (France).

Related reports & monitors

A study of the complete first generation of the 5G millimeter-wave chipset from Samsung, including an L-shape antenna module from Murata.

5G reaching the mass market is an opportunity and threat for RF front-end legacy players and is unifying Chinese companies.

SPM21002 Smartphone Design Win Quarterly Monitor Q3_Cover

A first-ever smartphone technology monitor on the latest components, packaging and silicon chip choices of the smartphone makers.

Discover our end-to-end approach providing market data down to wafer level.