5G plastics for a networked world

5G is the latest generation of mobile communications and was developed to respond to private demand and the economic environment of 2020 and beyond. 5G will become the basis for a fully mobile and networked society; it is a key technology for the digitalization of all areas of life and the economy. The new technology enables close networking of devices such as cell phones, tablets, vehicles, household appliances, industrial plants, and many others to form an Internet of Things (IoT).

A variety of engineering plastics are coming into their own for use in emerging 5G networks.

With the installation of 5G, the demand for base stations, active antenna units (AAU) and other equipment will increase dramatically. Materials suppliers are rushing to develop this emerging market niche with new grades of engineering plastics to meet the requirements of high-speed connections, including antenna technology, high-speed connector solutions and optical distribution networks (ODN).

DuPont’s Crastin polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) product families, for instance, are said to provide balanced Dk/Df (dielectric constant/ dissipation factor) properties (less than three and less than 0.007, respectively), creating excellent antenna performance, and delivering outstanding signal transmission to ensure high-speed, low-latency 5G communications and operation quality. According to DuPont, the CE20 series of PBT materials, featuring low Dk of less than three, can broaden bandwidth for better transmission. They can also bond to metal in a stable manner, and boast 40% better flow and 10% lower density compared with competing halogenated flame retardant PBT grade.

DuPont also offers materials for high-speed connectors through its Zytel HTN range of high-temperature polyamides that are compatible with the most popular SMT (surface mount technology) assembly processes. The 20–50% glass-reinforced grades reportedly provides superior flowability, which is perfect for miniaturization design, temperature resistance up to 280°C, and CTI as high as 600 V.

For ODN solutions, meanwhile, the company’s Hytrel thermoplastic polyester elastomer finds applications in optical fiber cable while Zytel RS HTN polyamide is said to offer outstanding mechanical properties and reliability as an interconnect material that enable the fast connection service.

DuPont notes that increasing demands for greater power and higher speed data transmission will result in more need for thermal management. Thermal management solutions make 5G devices more reliable and functionally stable, minimizing malfunctions and system failures. It also significantly improves the 5G user experience by reducing heat at the hotspots. DuPont's wide range of thermally conductive products, including Zytel RS HTN, Zytel, and Crastin, have various mechanical properties that cater to different customers’ needs.

For its part, Covestro is developing innovative and sustainable material solutions and contributing to a smart infrastructure, including sensor technologies and a digital communication environment. The company is cooperating closely with Deutsche Telekom and the Umeå Institute of Design. Covestro will present some prototypes at K 2019. The project is part of the company´s comprehensive digitalization strategy. Together with its partners, the company is committed to achieving Goals 9 (Innovation and Infrastructure) and 11 (Sustainable Cities) of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

Polycarbonates and their blends have proven themselves in a wide range of electrical and electronic applications and, thanks to their outstanding properties, should also be the materials of choice for 5G technology: “They are mechanically robust, lightweight, transparent to radio frequencies and suitable for injection molding,” explains Fabian Grote, who is a core member of the global 5G team at Covestro. Some grades also show good weather resistance or thermal conductivity or are suitable for two-component injection molding and laser direct structuring (LDS).

To increase public acceptance of an expanded network of antennas and base stations, Covestro is working with students from the renowned Umeå Institute of Design and Deutsche Telekom to seamlessly integrate these technical facilities into the cities of the future. The project includes the development of attractive base stations, their color matching, and surface structuring. Düsseldorf served as a reference city for the project.

In this project, Covestro will enter this market in a hypothetical scenario with its own product range. The actual product is the outer sheath of a third-party antenna, which is designed to adapt to specific environments by either fitting in or protruding from it, depending on the environment and population density. This is where the best potential can be exploited with products that deliver the technical requirements and either integrate or reinforce the character of a city with a 5G network. “At K 2019, we will be showing a series of technical and design prototypes for small cells in the frequency range of 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz,” says Grote.

When 5G technology progresses to a higher frequency (i.e., the millimeter-wave band), signal transmittance could become a design challenge. “We can help our customers to enjoy more design freedom while ensuring the 5G data transmittance performance with state-of-art testing capabilities in a broad frequency range of up to 50 GHz under a variety of environmental conditions, all in our Asia Pacific Innovation Center in Shanghai,” says Nan Hu, Global Head of Electronics at the Polycarbonates Segment of Covestro.

5G technology, with its high transfer rates, will also have a significant impact on smartphone design. The antennas for 5G technology require more space. That is just one reason why metal solutions used to date for the back of devices will in future be replaced by ceramics, glass or plastics.

A Makrofol SR multilayer film solution with acrylic top layer combined with a new manufacturing process results in mobile phone back covers that look like glass but are not fragile. “The film laminate can be formed in three dimensions, and the film solution also meets the requirements for transmission at high radio frequencies with wavelengths in the millimeter range,” explains Echol Zhao, Head of Specialty Films Greater China at Covestro.

This crystal clear, 3D formable and 5G compatible film material is specifically engineered for optimal design freedom for mobile phone brands to create fashionable mobile phones using decoration technologies such as UV patterning and non-conductive vacuum metallization (NCVM). More than 50 percent of the mobile phone market in China is currently switching to such multi-layer PC/PMMA film solutions – a sign of a promising future for the coming 5G era.

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