A 5G network will rely on more optical fiber, in some cases up to 100 times more than a legacy wireless network and will require more connection points to establish high-speed and low-latency coverage. Corning is collaborating with leading network providers to make 5G a reality, providing the optical fiber required to carry the signal and the in-building cell sites to bring 5G indoors – to office buildings, hospitals, manufacturing facilities, retail stores and more.
And Corning’s 5G innovations don’t stop there. Once the work is done to harness the power of 5G, phones need to be ready to receive it. A key component of 5G-ready smartphones is a tiny and ultra-pure piece of glass nestled inside each phone.
5G devices feature semiconductor chips designed to respond to 5G frequencies. One such chip is the radio frequency front-end (RFFE) module.
“RFFE modules are complex systems providing all electrical components required to transmit and receive signals to and from the antenna. They convert digital information from the modem into an analog signal that can be radiated from the antenna to the network and vice versa,” said Dr. Xavier Lafosse, commercial technology director for Corning Precision Glass Solutions. RFFE modules have been adapted to address the newer, higher radio frequency bands that are specific to 5G.
RFFE modules rely on a complex integration of specialized components to amplify and switch RF signals, effectively channeling 5G signal. Corning scientists are currently working with RFFE module designers to enable the next generation of filters and switches using glass substrates. With a glass material like Corning® HPFS® Fused Silica, the 5G signal maintains its strength and purity along its journey through the phone’s RFFE module. As the industry raises the bar and introduces 5G, advantages will lie in the material’s dielectric properties, specifically low dielectric loss. A material like HPFS with optimized dielectric properties translates into less signal loss and higher signal fidelity, letting users enjoy more consistent and reliable 5G signal.
Many devices manufactured and sold throughout 2020 and beyond will contain the semiconductor chip technology to connect to 5G, while still being able to use 4G and 4G LTE in the interim. A device’s product information or the manufacturer’s website should note if 5G capabilities are available.
As more and more devices allow for 5G connectivity, they’re also becoming thinner and relying more on wireless charging. Many phones now feature glass backs, as opposed to metal or plastic.
“Glass is more transparent to some of the required electro-magnetic wavelengths, making it an ideal material because it enables wireless charging through induction and supports high bandwidth radio frequency (RF) transmission,” explained John Bayne, senior vice president and general manager, Mobile Consumer Electronics. As with wireless charging, glass also makes it easier for the 5G signal to access a device’s modem and RFFE modules.
5G frequency is different from 4G in that it is higher and falls in shorter wavelengths that struggle to pass through materials like plastic or metal. The transparency of glass makes it a natural choice for covers on 5G-ready devices. Many recently launched devices advertising 5G compatibility have glass covers on back that allow for both ease of wireless charging and strong access to network signals.
Older devices, particularly those designed to work with 3G and early 4G networks, will not be able to connect to 5G. In order to connect to the next-generation network, devices will need to be compliant with 5G. Most device manufacturers are ready for 5G and have already developed products that will allow customers to transition between 4G and 5G networks.
Bottom line: As 5G is not yet fully available globally, and will take several years to become fully accessible, consumers should consider choosing a device that can use the 4G or 4G LTE network and connect to 5G when available.