Technologists outline our future in dazzling colors: we will let ourselves be driven by autonomous vehicles, our refrigerators will order milk and our factories will be able to independently order supplies for the production process. This is the vision of the Internet of Things, in which devices and sensors are comprehensively connected and automatically control processes. This means more and more data has to be transported faster and faster worldwide – especially via mobile communications. Mobile data volumes are already doubling every two years.
The future 5G mobile communication standard will enable transfer rates of up to 10 gigabits per second, 100 times faster than the LTE network (4G). This is the only way, for instance, to make data glasses suitable for machine park maintenance, and only with 5G is it possible to network billions of devices simultaneously. Latency time, or the reaction time for the transmission of a command signal, also stands to be reduced to less than one millisecond. This enables, for example, quickly decelerating cars with an assistance system and regulating energy networks without any issues. Last but not least, 5G should be able to reduce resource consumption per transmitted bit by a factor of 100.
A significantly larger frequency spectrum, which optimists expect to be launched as early as 2020, is planned for the new mobile radio standard to be able to transmit the growing amount of data. While bandwidths of up to 2.6 gigahertz (GHz) are used today, frequency ranges of up to 6 and then up to 89 GHz will play a role in the future. This will have far-reaching technical consequences: high-transmission multiple-antenna technology (MIMO/ Multiple In Multiple Out), for example, will no longer need only two to four antenna elements, but will require dozens (Massive MIMO). Hardware developers will have to put themselves in a position to produce smaller and more efficient antennas with even greater precision.
For these growing demands on design and substrate of such high-frequency components, we recommended materials that are still relatively unknown in the mobile radio world: specialty glass and glass-ceramics. These transparent materials provide the demanding dielectric properties and thermal expansion required by 5G. Above all, however, they meet the highest demands for material homogeneity and production precision. They offer fewer fluctuations in their property profile than previously used ceramics. Mechanical stability is also higher. Both make series production considerably easier. “Our talks with several potential market partners about these advantages and our expertise in high-precision production have already led to development projects,” says Dr. Martin Letz, Senior Principal Scientist at SCHOTT.
Already in 2017, the German company and world’s largest antenna producer Kathrein presented the prototype of an antenna array with beam steering for massive MIMO applications in the 5G standard at the Mobile World trade fair. The prototype was developed as a joint project with SCHOTT. The fully functional transmitting and receiving module bundles direct radio transmissions of massive amounts of data precisely to the position of the respective smartphone. The array is based on SCHOTT material: a glass cylinder made of LASF 35 glass and cubes made of POWERAMIC® GHz 33 glass-ceramic for frequencies of approximately 3.6 GHz. POWERAMIC® components were also used in other projects such as dielectric antennas for vehicle-to-vehicle communication and GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) antennas in aircraft for high-precision navigation during take-off and landing.
Although such hardware developments have yet to be developed in large numbers due to undefined software standards and protocols for the 5G standard, SCHOTT is already well positioned. The technology group is also in contact with major manufacturers of field simulation software such as the German company CST and the American company Ansys HFSS. Their programs need hardware producers for the development of components and devices. SCHOTT has provided significant data on relevant materials for this purpose, a large part of which has already been included in the programs’ material databases. “We are ready for additional projects in every respect,” says Dr. Letz.