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Sub-6GHz and mmWave 5G: Opportunities for Thermal Management Materials

The 5G market is expanding rapidly, with the first installations already being demonstrated. The increasing deployment of 5G will generate innovation and growth opportunities in thermal management. The shift to higher frequencies, and the accompanied higher signal loss, necessitates the densification of network installations, hence, utilising many more small-sized (pico or femto) stations. This acts to multiply the potential market for 5G infrastructure.

Additionally, the growth of sub-6 GHz installations opens the door for new power amplifier semiconductor technologies such as GaN. This is accompanied with a transition away from incumbent die attach materials like AuSn towards emerging alternatives, for example, pressure-less silver sintering.


The rise of massive MIMO increases the number of RF chains per installation, beamforming capabilities and the number ofantennaelements used in networks. This results in an increase in the materials required for the antenna PCB, power amplifiers, beamforming components and many more. Massive MIMO also drives data transfer rates and channels higher leading to a greater requirement on baseband processing units, power consumption and hence greater market opportunities for thermal interface materials.


With the future rise of mmWave, even more drastic changes will be seen in the 5G market and opportunities for thermal management. To increaseantennagain, the number of antenna elements also increases, but due to the smaller wavelength, the antenna itself can be smaller. This leads to a densification of components with a drastic increase in the number of power amplifiers and beamforming components that need to be integrated. Considering teardowns of current early devices, this will likely be done by distributing components behind the antenna in a dense lattice-like structure, resulting in power dissipation challenges and hence a larger market for thermal management materials.


As the component number and density increase in a hybrid beamforming arrangement, we see many more beamforming components but also the potential to reduce the use of discrete power amplifiers, integrating them into the beamforming component. This high level of integration could then also see the market shift back towards silicon-based components in the long term.

Many of the initial 5G mobile phones that were tested by the public (especially the mmWave compatible ones) would overheat whilst utilising 5G's high download speeds and would drop back to using 4G in order to cool down. This is a very temporary solution, consumers going forward will want these extreme download speeds to reliably perform for much longer timescales. There are several strategies used by manufacturers to help keep heat to a minimum in smartphones, with the incorporation of 5G we are seeing a greater increase in devices utilising technologies such as vapour chambers and even graphene heat spreaders. Much like in previous generations of phones, how thermal interface materials are used and in what quantity is an important factor and a very large market in itself.

In the Report "Thermal Management for 5G", IDTechEx carried out an extensive analysis of the 5G infrastructure market, observing the trends and combining this with evaluations of current installations and their construction. The report starts with 5G deployment forecasts and segments through frequency, station size and MIMO size in order to cover each use case in-depth. For each of these considerations, it is then broken down by the number of antenna elements, power amplifiers and beamforming components required. From here the trends in semiconductor technology are assessed depending on the antenna power and gain required. How the die attach market is evolving and how this will change with semiconductor technology is considered to provide a die attach market forecast. The baseband processing and power supply requirements are also considered between different station sizes and frequencies. Finally, the total areas of the previously mentioned components are used to calculate the requirement for thermal interface materials in 5G networks. For each of the mentioned quantities, the report retains the segmentation of previous forecasts, this allows for an extremely granular technological and market overview. Teardowns of previous and new 5G smartphones are used to give realistic estimates of thermal interface material usage and forecast through to 2030.

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