The Syensqo company, comprising the solutions, activities and markets represented in the article below, was spun off from Solvay group in December 2023.
With 5G on the rise and 6G on the horizon, the race for the best materials is on
As you may have heard, rapidly spreading 5G mobile connectivity enables new applications and more connected devices. It uses the same frequency range as our current mobile phones (2.5 - 5 GHz), but notably adds frequencies up to 40 GHz, while also making smarter use of the entire spectrum. This means the signal can carry more data: 20 Gbps instead of 100 Mbps, tremendously decreasing the download time of a video, for example.
That said, it comes with some constraints too: higher frequencies require shorter distances between the antenna and the device. This means the number of antennas must be multiplied by a factor of 10 to be able to connect up to a million objects per square kilometer. The design of the antennas also needs to be adapted so that it sends signals that are shaped like a narrow beam instead of a circular wave, and the signal also needs to be more focused to optimise the antenna’s energy consumption.
Wireless connectivity but concrete molecules
The consequence of this frequency increase is a higher number of collisions between molecules, causing a signal loss. Therefore, the materials used for 5G equipment must have low dielectric loss properties to minimize this signal attenuation. If the signal were light, that would mean using materials that are transparent.
In parallel, the miniaturization and optimization of the performance-to-size ratio of our devices is the focus of designers who are looking for aesthetic solutions while increasing the density of micro-electronics. But that means materials must be temperature resistant to withstand manufacturing processes as well as heat generation caused by signal loss in complex environments.
Images ref: Polymer's crystals highlighted by polarized light - optical microscope (Credit: wikiwand.com/en/Spherulite)
The best science you can find in Solvay’s vast portfolio of materials for 5G equipment are crystalline polymers, because they are very good at minimizing loss. These are fluorinated polymers such as Algoflon® PTFE and Hyflon®, or Xydar® Liquid Crystal Polymer and PPS Ryton®. Our scientists are investigating their dielectric and temperature resistance properties so manufacturers can use them to address specific application and customer needs. In short, our materials offer higher signal efficiency, higher design flexibility and higher circuit integration with lower interference for 5G devices, with lower signal loss.
(Image credit: https://www.mdpi.com/2079-9292/9/12/2191/htm)
IoT is going to need 6G
Taking a look at the years to come, increased mobility and enhanced connectivity are also the drivers of the Internet of Things (IoT) technologies that are progressively transforming our ways of working and living. By 2030, 60% of the world’s population will access the Internet through mobile devices at a very high called “Enhanced Mobile Broadband.”
The step from 5G to 6G will enable the increase by a factor of 10 of the number of connected devices. With 6G, autonomous cars will become a standard for instance, as the signal speed will be enough to allow the vehicle to react in less than a millisecond, a requirement to operate safely. Simultaneously, immersive mixed reality applications will use devices on our noses or wrists. Needless to say, the search for and need of the best materials for all these applications will only accelerate in the near future.