How Will 5G Rollout Impact Mobile Chip Making?

Mobile chip makers need to be dynamic and competitive to resolve the complexity of 5G cellular networks better and optimize time to market.    

FREMONT, CA: Amid a slowdown in the smartphone business, the market is heating up for the next big thing in wireless—5G. In fact, chip makers are all rushing to get a piece of the action in 5G. A 5G smartphone will need to process a staggering amount of data, so to power a 5G network, chip makers need to manufacture a new class of chips. This means that 5G networks will demand a closer collaboration across the entire semiconductor ecosystem than what it presents today. 

Leading players are already building out their 5G networks. It will take a couple of years for those networks to become ubiquitous and reliable as today's 4G networks, but by the end of 2020, customers can get 5G connectivity options on their smartphone. When it comes to 5G mobile chips, the market has become more consolidated, with many players investing in research and development for manufacturing chips that support 5G connectivity. There are already application processors in the market with ten processor cores.

The 5G modems to feed giant application processors will be a big challenge for chip makers. For 5G smartphones, manufacturers will likely incorporate application processors and other digital chips based on finFET transistors. Radio-frequency (RF) technology is another vital part of the 5G wireless infrastructure. 4G networks operate from 700 MHz to 3.5 GHz. In contrast, 5G will need to operate at the mmWave bands, which provide ten times more bandwidth than 4G connectivity.  In present-day 4G smartphones, the RF front-end must support more than 40 frequency bands and three-carrier aggregation bands. In comparison, the RF front-end in a 5G smartphone will need to support five carrier aggregation bands and 50 frequency bands, which will force chip makers to come up with advanced solutions.

Given that, it will take a tremendous effort from chip makers to make 5G smartphones happen. It will require a far closer collaboration across the entire semiconductor industry.

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