“Consumer appetite for data has not been reduced by the COVID-19 pandemic,” asserted Cédric Malaquin, technology and market analyst, specialized in RF devices and technologies within the Power & Wireless division at Yole Développement. “In fact, it’s the opposite. People realized the importance of being connected during lockdown. Most of the data traffic increase has been handled by fixed networks, but mobile networks also have been affected. Many service providers had to adapt to the situation…”

The early 5G implementation started end 2019. The technology has a strong potential for RF front-end market growth and is very attractive to many companies across the world. In parallel, sizing market opportunities and highlighting technology trends appeared to be useful for the semiconductor industry. The RF front-end and the connectivity markets involve a substantial amount of technology platforms competing with each over, many of which having a strong market disruption potential.

In this context, Yole and System Plus Consulting investigated disruptive RF technologies and related markets in depth. Both companies point out the latest innovations and underline the business opportunities in the 5G’s Impact on RF Front-End and Connectivity for Cellphones report. Performed by Yole’s analysts gives detailed analysis of each technology’s strengths and weaknesses and delivers an ecosystem snapshot. Including market trends and forecasts, market shares, ecosystem and U.S./China trade war analysis, this study also points out COVID-19’s impact on the RF front-end and connectivity business.

This technology and market report is linked to System Plus Consulting comparative analysis, RF Front-End Module Comparison 2020 – Volume 2, published in Q2 2020. In this report, the reverse engineering and consulting company proposes a technical and cost overview of Huawei’s Mate and P series RF front-end module technologies from 2015 to 2019. This new report highlights the technical choices made by the leading Chinese OEM over the years.

“A drop in the number, area and cost of American components is revealed in latest Mate series,” explained Stéphane Elisabeth, technology and cost analyst at System Plus Consulting. “In addition, we underline Huawei’s ability to still produce a highly competitive smartphone with 5G Sub-6 GHz technology despite the political situation…”

What are the economic and technological challenges of the RF front-end industry? What are the key drivers? Who are the suppliers to watch, and what innovative technologies are they working on? What is Huawei’s strategy in this highly competitive context, in front of the U.S.-based companies? Yole and System Plus Consulting reveal the latest technical and market trends.

Whether fixed or mobile, service providers have a great window for migrating consumers to broadband internet access and to the new 5G and Wi-Fi6 plus fiber standards, announces Yole in its latest RF electronics report. The benefit at the network operator level is the efficiency of the new technologies, which would reduce cost of operation.

And as early adopter consumers are ready to pay extra fees for the improved network and compelling data plans, the return on investment for the carrier will come sooner. China, South Korea and the U.S. are early adopter countries of 5G where all major carriers have launched their network and where consumers are technology enthusiasts. In Japan, in Europe and for the rest of the world, 5G network rollout is moving forward at a slower pace. The Chinese market will pull most of the demand for 5G smartphones in 2020.

“RF front-end and connectivity markets poised for double digit growth,” stated Malaquin. “Indeed, when we purchase a smartphone, we often look at the battery lifetime and the photographic performance. Then come system performance and connectivity, which is attributed to SoC performance. One must also notice the fundamental role of the RF front-end in the system performance. It directly impacts the device power consumption and is essential for routing, filtering and amplifying signals to and from the antennas”.

LTE and LTE-Advanced and Wi-Fi 5 standards have contributed to the rising complexity of RF front-end solutions in handsets. 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are no exception as both standards introduce new features that will increase the RF content and complexity. Indeed, to cope with more stringent requirements in data transmission speed and better spectral efficiency, a 5G handset will feature a 4x4 MIMO downlink for frequencies above 2.5 GHz.

According to Antoine Bonnabel, technology and market analyst for the Power & Wireless team of Yole, “It will also have NR frequency bands along with EN-DC of 5G with LTE. There will be a 2x2 MIMO uplink in some cases and likely a diversity transmit link. Sounding reference signals will also be mandatory in 5G handset to optimize the radio link with an active antenna system within range”. On top of that, 5G devices will have to meet the definition of high-power user equipment for TDD NR bands and to be capable of operating with at least 100 MHz of bandwidth. CA will be applied to 5G as it was for LTE.

Other features will be evaluated, such as supplementary uplink, which could affect the RF content. Wi-Fi 6 will essentially democratize the use of 2x2 MIMO for up and downlink. Wi-Fi 6E will extend the frequency coverage of Wi-Fi signals to 6 GHz. New use cases such as file sharing or augmented reality and smart remote control are driving the need for a precise positioning technology. Thus, a new UWB radio will be added in handsets, further increasing the RF content.

Overall, the RF front-end and connectivity market was valued at US$15.2 billion in 2019. It will grow 11 percent CAGR between 2020 and 2025 to reach US$25.4 billion by 2025 according to the 5G’s Impact on RF Front-End and Connectivity for Cellphones report.