How to optimize antenna radiator units for 5G towers, while enhancing unit design and reliability

Beyond providing superior mobile experiences, 5G enables a vast range of next-generation technologies that are changing our lives. To support rapidly growing demand for 5G services, next-generation 5G base stations require a massive multiple input multiple output (MIMO) antenna array for the active antenna unit (AAU) design. This means that manufacturers need to reduce the weight and size of antenna radiator units to ensure towers remain stable. 

5G promises to radically transform our lives in the coming years. In addition to providing multi-gigabit mobile broadband speeds, the technology’s ultra-low latency and high capacity enable numerous disruptive technologies, including autonomous driving and smart cities. By 2027, 48% of global mobile subscribers are expected to be using 5G.

Meeting future 5G demand requires ground networks designed to handle massive amounts of traffic generated by countless users and devices. Although small cells are used to connect many urban areas to 5G today, this type of network relies on a vast number of nodes to cover densely populated regions – which make it expensive to deploy and maintain. 

More countries are responding to the shift to 5G by investing in massive multiple input multiple output (MIMO) base stations. This technology leverages active antenna units (AAU) that use multiple radiator units that house a range of low to high frequency band antennas. This approach substantially improves spectral efficiency and enables smart beam-forming that optimizes the capacity and performance of network services.

How you can have greater design flexibility while ensuring towers are stable

To provide high-quality services for large 5G user bases across long distances, as many as 128 receiving and transmitting antenna radiators need to be installed per massive MIMO tower. This requires antenna equipment manufacturers to reduce the weight and size of AAUs to ensure towers remain stable – particularly during extreme weather. High-performance thermoplastics that can replace metal materials and support greater design flexibility are key to meeting this goal. 

To keep pace with tight base station deployment schedules, antenna equipment manufacturers also need to retire time-consuming processes, such as manually mounting electronic components to printed circuit boards (PCBs). As a result, replacement thermoplastics need to be compatible with surface mount technology (SMT) processes that use high-heat reflow soldering.  

Envalior recognized the value that polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) provides for producing compact antenna radiator units. We conducted a trial using XytronTM PPS G4085G to manufacture units through injection molding, and metal-plate these parts with the support of a long-term partner. Compared to processes that manually assemble metal and PCB components, this approach drove substantial time and cost savings. The final units are lighter, save more design space and improve radiator unit performance.

Enhancing unit design and reliability with a material ideal for SMT reflow processes

Conditioning testing demonstrates that Xytron is better suited to minimize high frequency signal losses compared to competing thermoplastics – due to its low dissipation factor (Df) and stable dielectric constant (Dk). The material’s high stiffness, low moisture uptake and melting temperature of more than 280oC make it ideal for SMT reflow processes and ensure antenna towers are waterproof and meet UL-F1 standards. Xytron radiator units consistently achieved a yield rate of 80% during metal plating – with no delamination or blistering issues.

Supporting your entire product development process

We help customers meet strict component miniaturization, performance and reliability requirements in fewer steps. Our design support teams offer in-depth computer-aided engineering services that accurately predict how parts will respond to various stress factors during assembly and once in production. We also offer on-site manufacturing process and tooling optimization to minimize part defect rates and give your teams the opportunity to test production set-ups with our assistance.

As 5G adoption picks up speed, it’s crucial to select a material partner with a track record of overcoming the challenges of producing next-generation connectivity and telecom devices. With our broad material portfolio for next-generation electronics, deep knowledge of secondary processes, and professional design support services, Envalior is ready to help you capitalize on the opportunities 5G base station equipment manufacturing brings to your business.

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John Hsieh

Advanced Engineering Manager

Published on

20 October 2022

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