Flexible Electronics and 5G
5G – what is it about?
5G is the 5th generation of mobile networks, a significant evolution of today’s 4G networks. It is a collection of optimised and updated mobile communication technologies that will operate from two high frequencies – sub-6GHz or 20-40 GHz. Such high frequency requires new materials and different device design. 5G will provide high-speed connections up to 10x faster than 4G, high throughput of data, and low latency – the time taken for devices to respond to each other over the wireless network. 3G had a typical response time of 100 milliseconds, 4G is around 30 milliseconds, and 5G will be as low as one millisecond. Virtually instantaneous, 5G will enable the next generation of communication technology and a whole new era of digital innovations.
The market for 5G is expected to be over $720 billion by 2030, with large scale roll-out of infrastructures and rapid adoption of 5G devices and services. 5G will not only accelerate the growth and expansion of telecoms along with digital communication- but is also set to redefine and accelerate industries such as automotive, aerospace, healthcare, computing, and manufacturing.
What will 5G enable?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term often used with 5G technology; as 5G will connect the billions of digital devices and smart sensors to the internet, completing the bi-directional transfer of associated data. 5G is capable of seamlessly handling significant data volumes from the vast range of applications that will utilise it, creating a truly connected world. Consumer devices will be able to offer new functionality, and 5G is sure to harness high-value areas including for autonomous vehicles, remote medical care, manufacturing, smart homes, and VR.
Taking a brief look at the future of autonomous vehicles, manufacturers will produce transport vehicles that call for minimal passenger effort, whilst providing increased safety. While the vehicle does the driving, it may effectively be turned into customisable mobile living space, be it for leisure, office space, to exercise in or even dine in.
One of the key enablers for 5G technologies and their advances is Flexible Electronics, due to their inherent properties in their physical form. Flexible Printed Circuit assemblies (FPCs) take up less real estate in already crowded spaces than traditional PCBs, meaning entire devices are smaller, thinner, and lighter. Not only does the use of FPCs versus PCBs allow for weight and space-saving targets to be met, but as we all drive hard towards the increased recyclability of end products, FPC’s are a real game-changer where sustainability is concerned.
The flexible form of FPCs means they can be designed and contoured to fit any shape, which is critical for automotive technologies that are already developed and manufactured today. These benefits are not merely for vehicle harness assemblies, sensors, antennas, or heating systems, they permit innovative cabin electronics such as sleek, high-functionality steering wheels, contoured infotainment systems and passenger control units- and the seamless incorporation of digital communication devices within the dashboard or centre console. With the emergence of autonomous vehicles, the need for Flexible Electronics will only increase.
Medical and electronic wearable devices are set to see huge growth, with so many applications made possible and being highly reliable. In 2019 the medical wearable market was valued at $12.8 billion and is expected to reach $37.7 billion by 2025. Measurement of body fitness, heart rate, ECG, oxygen saturation, when embedded within FPCs will see much greater functionality and design flexibility than the smart watches, bands and rings that are available today. These applications and devices, with 5G system connectivity and monitoring by certified medical professionals, will bring the realisation of advanced health and drug-delivery devices. Ultra-thin, on-skin patches and lightweight, ergonomic devices ensure patient comfort. Consumers interest to monitor their health is already growing, and the application of Flexible Electronics is enabling this.
When will 5G be available?
Initial 5G services commenced in many countries in 2019, and widespread availability is expected by 2025. With its huge bandwidth, high speed, and low latency, 5G has already begun to facilitate the product development that will benefit various aspects of our lives; allowing devices to send and receive significant amounts of critical data for all manner of applications. What is clear and evident for the enablement of these devices is the incorporation of Flexible Electronics, due to their significant advantages in weight, space-saving, formability, and sustainability. FPC’s eliminate design barriers and provide opportunity for blue-sky product design to become reality.
The time to commence development of the products of the future is already upon us. In2tec have over 25 years of experience at the forefront of innovation in Flexible Electronics and provide elegant solutions to complex design problems. We work closely with our customers to understand their needs and development plans, provide them with new and emerging technology, and keep them ahead of their competition.
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