We asked ourselves if 5G is ready for widespread adoption, and the answer is no. However, there are nearly two dozen 5G smartphone designs expected to be available this year and researchers are forecasting over 1 billion subscribers by 2024, with minimal rollouts this year.

Though we still have a long way to go before 5G deployments usurp the previous-generation 4G/4G LTE cellular networks, component manufacturers — from RFICs and modems to connectors and oscillators — are making it happen with continued new product development that delivers precision performance in small packages and higher integration while keeping an eye on costs. In addition, they are helping drive 5G commercialization by partnering with mobile operators and OEMs to test and fine-tune devices and networks.

Over the past couple of years, chipmakers in particular have been on the fast track in developing modems and RF front ends for the next generation of cellular networks. Today, many of them have rolled out chipsets and platforms that include radio frequency ICs (RFICs), system-on-chips (SoCs), application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), cellular ICs, and millimeter-wave (mmWave) ICs.

With the promise of ultra-low latency, higher data rates, and greater capacity, higher-performing RF power devices are needed to deliver higher integration and lower power consumption. A number of architectural complexities have been introduced by 5G due to MIMO antenna configurations.

In addition, 5G radio equipment needs to operate in traditional cellular bands and other microwave and mmWave bands, but to ensure a reliable flow of data across the frequency bands, it will be essential to improve output power and energy efficiency of the network infrastructure. The answer may lie in gallium nitride (GaN) technology for power semiconductors.

But RF chipmakers aren’t the only component manufacturers making strides in the 5G space. Frequency control devices for timing and clocking are critical components in high-data-rate transmissions for 4G and 5G networks. Oscillator manufacturers are developing new devices that tackle two big consumer demands: fewer service disruptions and better user experiences.

In addition, MEMS OCXOs are delivering benefits for these higher-speed networks, including high reliability, tight stability, and the ability to withstand harsh environments. They can be used as an alternative to quartz OCXOs, solving challenges such as sensitivity to environmental conditions, which require protective measures to solve the problem. But there are more advantages, including size, weight, and power consumption, that make these devices worth a second glance for communications equipment.

In the interconnect, passive, and electromechanical (IP&E) space, connectors and cable assemblies also have a key role to play in high-speed data transmission. 5G networks will have a big impact on connector reliability and signal integrity, and for 5G antenna systems, these interconnects need to step up their thermal, speed, and EMI performance while providing a low-cost solution. Currently, there are 5G-ready connectors in the market, though more optimization work is under development.

And once you’ve got all the pieces of the 5G puzzle, you’ve got to master 5G testing. As cellular speeds increase, so does test complexity, which includes expanded test requirements. These include new tests for standards compliance, EMI/EMC requirements, and over-the-air (OTA) behavior understanding, along with more test cases to cover new functionality.