5G, a technology deemed as fundamental to Industry 4.0, began to see large-scale commercial application around the world in 2020. However, 5G still faces problems related to difficulties in penetration and indoor coverage. Consequently, 5G millimeter wave (mmWave) technology is gaining traction in the mobile communications sector, owing to its high penetration rate and high speed. However, for 5G mmWave to be popularized, cost and energy consumption-related challenges should be overcome.
Su-Wei Chang, founder and CEO of TMY Technology, which focuses on providing mmWave solutions, said that mmWave technology is often criticized for its high energy consumption. However, he noted that such perception is based on "how many joules it takes to transmit 1 byte". In terms of bandwidth and the amount of data transmitted, according to Chang, mmWave technology is actually more efficient.
Overall, mmWave still remains more efficient and has a higher development potential when compared to existing transmission methods. Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) previously pointed out in its white paper on mmWave technology that millimeter wave is an inevitable direction for the evolution of communication technology.
Energy efficiency become the most acute when it comes to deploying mmWave technology for satellite communication. Currently, satellites still rely on silicon-based semiconductor technology that has inherently poorer transmission efficiency reaching at most 10%. In other words, for 100 watts of energy, 10 watts are used in transmission, with the rest turning into heat. To address the issue, TMY Technology is in cooperation with Win Semiconductor to develop III-V compound semiconductor-based power amplifiers, aiming to boost the transmission efficiency to 30%.
Apart from transmission efficiency, Chang observed that projects like Starlink also face issues with cost: the constellation deploys approximately 1,000 antennas, and each corresponding power amplifier IC costs around US$500. Compound semiconductor can boost the power output by 10 times, therefore reducing the number of antennas needed from 1000 to 100. Nevertheless, Chang noted that compound semiconductors remain costly at this stage, with price reduction only possible as production scales up.
Facing the growing importance of 5G or even 6G in the future, Chang said that although there aren't many orders at present, demand is gradually heating up. It is estimated that there will be a big demand spurt in 2025, and relevant industries must prepare as soon as possible.