Tag Archives: 5G

5G Modem for IoT and Wearable Devices

Although yet to become a commonplace scenario, we have been seeing and hearing about 5G quite often nowadays. For the most part, IoT devices and wearables are still in the realm of 4G LTE, while the rest of the industry has surged ahead. Now, Qualcomm is set to change that with the introduction of its Snapdragon X35 modem. With their new modem, Qualcomm aims to provide 5G support to these small devices. They are calling this technology 5G NR-Light, because of its reduced capability. According to the manufacturers, X35 modems will have a maximum downlink speed of around 220 Mbps and an uplink speed of around 100 Mbps.

Qualcomm claims their Snapdragon X35 will bring several breakthroughs in the world of 5G. Not only is the design of the world’s first 5G NR-Light modem cost-effective, but its streamlined form factor also leads to power efficiency. In addition, the company has designed the modem with optimized thermal performance. The company expects the Snapdragon X35 to power the next generation of intelligent connected edge devices while empowering an entire range of users. The company is eagerly waiting to work with industry leaders in unified 5G platforms and unleash the possibilities.

Although featuring a tiny form factor, NR-Light is mighty in performance. It features all the good aspects of 5G, starting from spectral efficiency and the ability to access new sub-6 GHz bands. High-end wearable devices, while incorporating the Snapdragon X35 modem, can communicate at the high speeds that 5G offers. In the industrial context, many IoT devices will be able to incorporate the X35 modem to improve their performance. The company is aiming its new modem at devices like Chromebooks, router products, low-end PCs, and many more. Another good feature is the new modem does not need an additional Qualcomm SoC to make it function.

To make it compatible with existing devices, Qualcomm has designed the Snapdragon X35 to support 4G LTE as well, as a fallback option. Even with such powerful features and working at such high speeds, the new modem consumes the lowest power of all the modems the company has manufactured so far. Although many other OEMs are showing a lot of interest, the first device to use this modem will emerge only in the first half of 2024. According to Qualcomm, the price of the Snapdragon X35 5G NR-Light modem will be around half that of its counterpart, the Snapdragon X55 modem.

Qualcomm has released more interesting features about their new modem. According to them, the Snapdragon X35 modem has the same interfaces as its predecessor LTE modems. This information is of vital importance for existing consumers with older designs. At least in theory, they can integrate the new modem in their designs with ease and avail the capabilities of 5G instantly.

Qualcomm has one more trick up its sleeve. They have announced another new modem, the Snapdragon X32, in addition to the Snapdragon X35 modem. They have designed the X32 modem as a modem-to-antenna solution suitable for use on lower-cost devices that work on NR-Light.

Connectivity Opportunities with 5G

Various parts of the world use different connectivity standards. While some are still struggling with 2, 3, and 4G connectivity, more progressive countries are trying out 5G and 6G. However, since 2019, when the markets introduced 5G, there has been considerable interest in its features. Smartphone manufacturers are now launching new handsets that offer the promise of substantially faster internet access along with the most advanced functionality.

So far, several mobile networks have adopted 5G, the latest and fastest protocol in the market. The recent pandemic forced millions to work from home remotely, and the high-speed wireless communication that 5G offers, came at the most opportune moment.

While manufacturers are busy offering the latest generation of mobile phones to access the 5G wireless telecommunications, many are still not aware of the true impact that the 5G technology has brought us overall. While 5G is a powerful tool for consumers, they are not the sole beneficiaries. 5G is slated to impart a far greater impact to the industrial world as compared to what any other network has so far. In fact, the data speeds offered by 5G are even challenging those from the more traditional wired technologies. This is the first time the world can unshackle itself from a physically wired net.

The introduction of the Internet of Things (IoT) has started the Fourth Industrial Revolution rolling. The IoT brings with it machine-to-machine communications, which, in its basic form, allows electronic devices to share data and communicate without requiring any human intervention. The introduction of 5G began at home, where machines are dominating several tasks in everyday life like grocery shopping to energy metering.

Nevertheless, IoT in future homes is only the tip of the iceberg. The functionality that IoT offers to designers is mind-boggling. The manufacturing world is now reveling in the creation of the smart factory, a byproduct of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

A traditional factory has several machines, each performing their own tasks, totally isolated from their neighbors. IIoT connects all machines into a network that allows the entire shop floor to act as a single entity. Sharing information among themselves, machines manage not just the production schedules, but also take care of the supply chain, logistics aspects of the operation, and their own maintenance.

With the introduction of 5G communication, the industrial environment will begin to integrate more devices into the smart factory network. A private 5G cell can handle the entire facility while allowing high-speed data flow from all parts of the factory operation, beginning from sensors to the operation of the largest machines. The introduction of a wireless network in the factory brings substantial benefits like unparalleled flexibility. Manufacturers can easily reconfigure production lines to respond to newer demands from the market.

5G communications are not limited to inside the factory premises alone. One of the major users of 5G technology is the automobile industry. While the demand for electric vehicles is growing at a tremendous pace, vehicles are fast becoming autonomous or self-driven. This requires vehicles to communicate with their neighbors on the road. 5G ensures fast communication to promote safety.

How mSAP Enhances HDI PCB Capabilities

With 5G technology around the corner, we are looking at the emergence of 5G smartphones. While this requires new manufacturing technologies such as high-density interconnect Printed Circuit Boards (HDI PCB), smartphones need to be less expensive and produced at greater efficiencies.

Customers usually covet compact sleek devices. Therefore, manufacturers need to balance function and form so that their products stand out in a crowd in a competitive marketplace. The smartphone market can be a treacherous place with corporate fortunes rising and falling on the success and failures of specific generations of phones.

Smartphone designers tend to use every millimeter of space within the device enclosure to unlock significant value for the user. This is how they are able to fit in large and high-resolution displays, large batteries, and more sophisticated processors. This allows designers offer more functionality with an enhanced feature set, ultimately improving the overall user experience.

As most of the design of a smartphone is form-factor driven, PCBs in the form of high density interconnects are the major contributors. These HDI PCBs are specially designed circuits differing from conventional PCBs as they provide the designer with more functions per unit area. Their main advantage is finer copper traces, thinner and more flexible base material and laser drilled via holes. Although HDI PCBs have played a crucial role in creating miniature smartphones and other embedded subsystems, 5G technology demands are more severe.

The new generation smartphones compatible to 5G requires extremely complex RF front ends and antenna configurations involving multiple inputs and multiple outputs—generally known as massive-MIMO. This not only expands the footprint of the RF content within the phone, but also enhances the processing power necessary to control the staggering volume of 5G data. Simultaneously, all the extra features and functionality affects the battery capacity, and hence, the geometry of the phone. Conversely, if the phone geometry is not to increase drastically, the 5G smartphone will have much less space for the HDI PCB inside.

With the reduction in internal space for the PCB, and use of higher 5G frequencies, designers will need to exercise much stricter control on the impedance of traces. Unless they design with extreme precision, the thin traces in HDI PCBs can increase the risk of signal degradation resulting in lapses of data integrity.

PCB designers and fabricators are overcoming these challenges by following the mSAP process. Fabricators of IC substrates generally use this semi-additive process, and HDI PCB fabricators have adopted its modified version.

Typical line to space ratios on the HDI PCBs are 30:30, meaning designers plan for a spacing of 30 µm between adjacent traces of 30 µm width each. Demands of increasing density are forcing fabricators towards line-space ratios of 25:25 and even 20:20, with the help of mSAP. This enables makers of 5G smartphones and other demanding gadgets to achieve unprecedented densities while offering superior geometries with exacting impedance control for their high frequency operation.

Contrary to the subtractive processes used for normal PCB etching, mSAP does the reverse, essentially coating a thin copper trace onto the laminate and subsequently building up its thickness by electroplating over it.