With profitable business models and killer applications starting to emerge, 5G is expected to be one of the largest and fastest-growing markets. By the end of 2020, 125 operators in 52 countries/territories have launched commercial 5G services, and 5G subscriptions are likely to be over 200 million globally. However, the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down the rollout of the 5G network globally. Also, the uncertainty of global economics and the on-going China–United States trade war might delay the adaption of 5G technology.
This article summarizes and highlights some of the critical developments and news in 2020.
5G infrastructure and deployment
The COVID-19 pandemic is the black swan to disrupt the rollout of 5G. Although the pandemic has had little adverse impact on Telecoms so far, the resulting global economic crisis is likely to reduce the telecoms’ investment in 5G infrastructure and harm the willingness of customers to adapt to 5G devices and applications. The deployment of sub-6GHz 5G base station might be 20% lower than the expectation, and the rollout of 5G mobile networks will be delayed by 9–18 months in many countries.
5G has been featured in many flagship phones, including brands from Huawei, Samsung, and more.
In 2020, Apple finally entered the competition by integrating 5G into all iPhone12 modules. The entrance of Apple into the 5G competition is likely to boost the investment from telecoms and encourage faster adoption of new materials and technologies to tackle the remaining challenges. Meanwhile, a large amount of low-cost 5G mobiles are available to the market. As a result, the market share of 5G handsets starts to surge in 2020. Note that most of the 5G phones can only support sub-6GHz 5G.
5G thermal management
Recent years have seen an increasing application of vapor chambers within smartphones to improve heat spreading. However, their future is far from set, with several high-end models still using graphite heat spreaders for their reduced complexity, cost, and weight. In the new Note20 smartphone, Samsung has used a graphite heat spreader or a copper vapor chamber; Apple’s first 5G phones all use graphite heat spreaders and have not adopted vapor chambers.
Several new thermal materials for 5G applications were released in 2020. Some highlights include: DOW introduced the DOWSIL TC-3065 Thermal Gel with thermal conductivity of 6.5 W/mK; Henkel also announced their portfolio of TIMs for 5G infrastructure; W.L.