Semiconductor innovations key to 6G deployment, according to DIGITIMES Research

Misha Lu, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

Due to the rapid advancement in communication technology, the commercialization of 6G is expected to take place by 2030, marking a significant reduction in the innovation cycle.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) initiated the standardization process for 3G in 1980, which was followed by the deployment of the first wave of 3G networks in Japan in 1998 after 18 years of development. Similarly, the standardization of 4G began in 2000 and deployment started in the United States after 12 years.

In comparison, the ITU started working on the 5G standard in 2013, and countries like South Korea, the United States, and China began offering 5G services between 2019 and 2020. The time from standardization to deployment and commercial availability for 5G was significantly reduced to 7-8 years, compared to the timelines of 3G and 4G, according to DIGITIMES Research analyst, Ashely Huang.

With the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) set to start researching 6G in 2024 and aiming to release the 6G standard in 2027-2028 (Release 22), the first wave of 6G network deployment and commercial availability is projected to commence around 2029-2030, according to Huang.

By 2030, the global number of mobile users is expected to reach 9.49 billion, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 1.4%. The market will reach saturation, leading to a slowdown in growth. Among these users, 65.9% will be utilizing 5G, 27.7% will rely on 4G, and the remaining 6.3% will represent the declining presence of 2G and 3G technologies.

Compared to its predecessor, 6G will need to demonstrate superior performance across various network transmission parameters, while also addressing the challenges of reduced power consumption and improved energy efficiency. The integration of Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTN) and the utilization of higher-frequency sub-terahertz and Free Space Optical (FSO) communications via satellites are among the distinctive features of 6G.

The power requirements of 6G are anticipated to be significantly higher than those of previous generations due to the deployment of Massive Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) technology and an increased number of supported frequency bands.

Power amplifiers (PAs), digital signal processors (DSPs), and radio frequency ICs (RFICs) are the primary factors contributing to the elevated energy consumption of Radio Units (RUs) equipped with massive antenna arrays. Among these components, PAs consume the majority of power, accounting for 55%, while DSPs and RFICs represent 26% and 16% respectively. Therefore, improving the efficiency of PAs is the top priority for reducing overall power consumption, according to DIGITIMES Research.

Researchers are currently exploring several approaches to achieve energy efficiency, such as implementing power-saving measures during idle or low-traffic periods. One such method is Massive MIMO muting, which involves deactivating certain antennas during low-load conditions to reduce PA power consumption. Another technique is micro-Discontinuous Transmission (micro-DTX), which allows specific analog components to enter a sleep mode when there is no data transmission requirement.

Efforts are also being made to enhance the efficiency of PAs. While the adoption of Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) technology in 4G and 5G improves spectrum utilization efficiency, it leads to higher Peak-to-Average Power Ratio (PAPR), which can result in higher Error Vector Magnitude (EVM) or increased Adjacent Channel Leakage Ratio (ACLR). Consequently, PAs are operated at lower power levels to avoid high PAPR, thereby reducing their overall efficiency.

Another challenge of 6G deployment stems from the use of terahertz (THz).

Though the scarcity of available spectrum resources and the demand for wider bandwidth in 6G necessitate the utilization of higher-frequency ranges, including THz, THz frequencies face challenges similar to millimeter waves, such as limited coverage range, increased power consumption, and susceptibility to environmental factors like rain or fog.

According to Huang, researchers are currently exploring antenna designs, using materials like Indium Phosphide (InP) or Silicon-Germanium (SiGe), and developing novel Digital Signal Processors (DSPs) to mitigate transmission losses in these frequency ranges.

Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces (RIS) have also emerged as a promising solution. RIS involves using a large number of passive reflecting elements embedded in the same plane and controlled by software to manipulate the electromagnetic characteristics of wireless signals. This allows for precise connections between base stations and end devices using millimeter waves and sub-terahertz waves, overcoming the limited coverage range associated with higher frequency bands.

About the Analyst:

Ashely Huang holds a Master's degree in Bioindustry Management from National Chung Hsing University and a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration from National Chengchi University. Her research areas focus on sensing technologies such as UWB and millimeter-wave radar, as well as networking technologies like 5G FWA, low Earth orbit satellites, and Wi-Fi 6.

Ashely Huang