Getting Ready For 5G

How the RF/microwave industry is changing to deal with the next generation of communications technology.

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Evolving communication systems are driving developments in the RF/microwave industry. The big umbrella of 5G focuses on supporting three main technologies:

1. Enhanced mobile broadband, which is the natural development of LTE;
2. Massive machine-type communications, also known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and
3. Ultra-reliable, low-latency communications providing mission-critical infrastructure for services such as transportation, public safety, medical, and more.

Future communication systems will be made up of many diverse systems that will be implemented with a wide array of solutions. Providing increased mobile broadband traffic and higher data rates, as demanded by end users, will require adding more spectrum, making that spectrum more efficient, and building out ultra-dense network configurations.

Of the RF and microwave hardware components that will support all these different systems, three main trends will continue to be true. First, performance such as bandwidth, linearity, and efficiency is critical and will have a major impact on devices like power amplifiers (PAs), filters, and antennas. Second, integration, which we see in multi-technology modules and embedded devices, will be critical for bringing high-performing, cost-effective communications products to market quickly. Finally, the escalating cost of product development for complex systems will require more coordinated engineering efforts.

5G is driving many of the requirements for products today. Achieving the aggressive goals of 5G is being addressed in several primary areas. Spectral usage, which includes variations on orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) based waveforms that were introduced with LTE release 8 and inter- and intra-band carrier aggregation is important, especially for spectrum below 6 GHz, where continuous unused bandwidth is rare. Another goal is enhancing over-the-air (OTA) efficiency with the expansion of multiple-in-multiple-out (MIMO) and beam-steering technologies, and finally, the goal of moving to higher frequencies, particularly above 6 GHz and into the centimeter- and millimeter-wave range.

As 5G pushes into these higher frequencies, beam-steering antennas will be required to direct radiated energy from the base station antenna array to the end user and overcome the higher path losses which occur at these frequencies. Fortunately, the shorter wavelength translates into smaller antennas, which in turn leads to more IC-based antenna array solutions. MMIC and RFIC design will play an important role in future beam-steering technologies for 5G systems operating at millimeter-wave frequencies. As wireless communications systems evolve, smaller devices with better performance are required that incorporate multi-technology-based module designs with different integrated circuit (IC) and printed circuit board (PCB) process technologies.

NI is very actively engaged in a number of the standards bodies that are defining the radio access and underlying technologies, which gives us a jump on developing the capabilities that will be required to design 5G products. The NI AWR Design Environment, with its latest V13 release, introduces a number of innovative features and capabilities that support the development of the complex, high-frequency electronics that enable engineering teams to achieve the high performance and integration goals that our customers are focused on meeting for future 5G communications systems. V13 addresses multi-technology module design with enhanced support for multiple process design kits (PDKs) within a single project, thereby making it easier to combine designs built from devices using different manufacturing processes and different layer stack up.

Support for Cadence Spectre netlist simulation with the APLAC harmonic balance simulator in Microwave Office, as well as support for OpenAccess, eliminates manual re-entry for schematic import and export of silicon designs created in Cadence Virtuoso. In addition, engineers are now able to combine Cadence RFIC blocks with monolithic microwave IC (MMIC) and PCB designs simulated in Microwave Office, as well as electromagnetic (EM) modeling from AXIEM 3D planar or Analyst 3D finite-element method EM simulators, as well as third-party EM simulators.

For more detail on NI AWR Design Environment visit ni.com/awr and for more details on V13, check out the awrcorp.com/whatsnew landing page for further documentation covering the hundred plus enhancements/additions to this latest release.