5G has now rolled out; what is the current battleground of the multi-billion RF industry?

5G is now deployed. Even though the US/CN trade war is still affecting the RF industry, the uncertainties have slowly started to disappear, and now a multitude of players are positioning themselves on the different existing technologies. The next step in 5G technology, now that the infrastructure is in place, is spectral efficiency and energy savings, which will bring enhanced capabilities beyond connectivity and enable a wider set of advanced use cases, especially for industrial applications.

On the path to 6G, geopolitics might be an issue for standardization organizations. With the Huawei ban cutting off the Chinese OEM from western supply chains, there is a risk of the future 6G standard splitting into different directions, returning to the 2G and 3G era where different ecosystems were competing for the same generation.

Different radio frequency technologies are used for the radio access network (RAN), backhaul connection for the baseband data, LTE, mmWave, and sub-6GHz frequencies for transmission to user equipment (UE), fixed wireless access (FWA) for radio wave-based home broadband, and so on. Each technology uses a specific type of emitting structure, whether a macro site for radio access to user equipment, or a small cell for indoor mmWave access in a warehouse, industry, or enterprise. In this multiplicity of RAN technologies, telecom operators have a strong interest in LTE and 5G coverage; these are generally outdoor solutions, e.g., macro and microsites, as well as outdoor small cells.

Although 5G has been attracting a lot of attention lately and is expected to improve some of these issues, it does not mean that other developments aren’t happening “in the background”. There have been several advancements in Wi-Fi and IoT standards in recent years, such as the use of OFDMA, the improvement of MU MIMO, the increase of channel bandwidths, or additional spectrum in the 6GHz band. The changes in Wi-Fi/Bluetooth and UWB standards will significantly propel the connectivity market and, with it, the RF components market, thus creating a massive opportunity for the various players in the industry. These standards will also drive innovation in the RF market, which is still small compared to cellular.

Regarding the technology platforms used for the main RF component market, namely the final stage amplification, the battle raging today between LDMOS and GaN should see GaN as a winner in the longer-term future. GaN should prevail as efficiency remains of the essence, and GaN solutions continue becoming more and more available. Take a look at our RF reports and monitors, focusing on all levels of the industry, from systems to modules, components, and wafers, to stay connected with the RF industry.