Emerging low-loss materials pave road to 6G

Even though it will be several years before the high-frequency, high-performance bands of mmWave 5G are ready for commercial use, the comms industry is already preparing for 6G telecommunications, and a research note from IDTechEx is warning that for 6G technologies to eventually be deployed globally in a decade, key research and development activities by numerous stakeholders across the supply chain must take place now, encompassing operators, component suppliers, governments, academics and equipment materials suppliers.

The common consensus is that compared with 5G, 6G is expected to have a 50x higher data rate and 100x faster speeds. 6G services are likely to work on frequency bands extending into the THz (terahertz) range (from 0.3 to 10 THz), which will be able to offer Tbps (terabits per second) data rates, microsecond latency and extensive network dependability.

Research on 6G technologies has been accelerating since 2019, two years after the first major milestone by Huawei in its 6G research. Partnerships and consortiums are shaping up to be important hubs of innovation for future 6G technologies.

This includes R&D for low-loss materials, which IDTechEx explored in its report, Low-loss materials for 5G and 6G 2024-2034: Markets, trends, forecasts. For THz communications, IDTechEx believes low-loss materials that help minimise signal loss will be critical to enabling new 6G technologies and applications.

The report concluded that the two biggest challenges that will need to be addressed for 6G technologies are very short signal propagation range and signal loss due to line-of-sight obstacles such as buildings and trees.

For the former challenge, IDTechEx says minimising transmission loss will require different technical advancements, including innovations in materials for 6G. Speaking broadly, it noted materials innovation acts as an essential building block on which other technical advances can develop.

The analyst conceded that from the outset, the precise performance targets needed for 6G are still unknown. Yet it added that the industry can expect next-generation low-loss materials to surpass the performance of current ultra-low-loss materials at a minimum.

As such, some researchers are approaching the challenge of 6G low-loss materials from the starting point of current commercially used low-loss materials. These material approaches may incorporate novel structures or modifiers into industry-standard dielectric materials, such as polytetrafluoroethylene and reinforced epoxy thermosets.

The study identified others considering the need for low-loss materials for integrated packages. As telecommunications components continue to be integrated into smaller packages, the need for materials that facilitate such packages increases. Organic materials such as polyimide and polyphenyl ether (PPE) are being developed into build-up materials for substrates.

IDTechEx also pointed to substantial research activity taking place for inorganic materials for integrated packages. It says numerous papers have been published demonstrating the feasibility of using glass as a substrate in an antenna-integrated die-embedded package, which may reduce signal loss in the interconnects. Others are exploring novel ceramic compositions for low-temperature co-fired ceramics for 6G applications, and some research approaches are utilising less conventional materials, such as low-cost thermoplastics, silica foams or wood-based composites.

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