As 5G commercialization gains momentum, relevant industries are speeding up their pace to enter the arena. Among them, the most eye-catching market would be electronic devices, since it is most relevant to the end consumers. As of the end of April 2019, main players in smartphone manufactures, including Oppo, Huawei, Vivo, Xiaomi, ZTE, Lenovo and Samsung, had released epoch-making 5G smartphones.
From the antique, brick-like cellular phones of years ago, to the light and smart devices of today, mobile phones keep evolving and upgrading at the fingertips of consumers. Besides the revolutionary development of communication technology, the advancement of material technologies is also playing a key role. In the 5G era, mobile phones are required to have features such as smaller size, ultra-thin shell, full-screen display and multiple cameras, among others. All of those need innovative materials.
Chemical innovations are everywhere in a smart phone. From face recognition modules and software in cameras, feedstock for injection molding of metal structural parts, high performance polymer materials for frames and back shells, to decorative coating and raw materials for lithium batteries, BASF solutions are all around. While ensuring good material performances adapted to the 5G network, BASF keeps developing new solutions to meet consumers’ increasing demands for a premium visual experience.
Complexity of 5G standards have posed unprecedented challenges to phone designers. To place an antenna matrix with at least six to nine – or even more than ten antennas – into a slim and light mobile phone is already difficult enough; the full-screen design will further squeeze space for antennas and block 5G signal transmission. How can so many antennas be installed in a small and compact space?
In addition, 5G is going to use a mixture spectrum (≤6GHz and ≥24GHz). Among them, the high frequency spectrum (≥24GHz) is vulnerable to signal interference, which requires materials with better performance of wave-transparent to maximize the antennas' transmission and receiving efficiency.
Camera functions has become a key consideration for consumers when purchasing smartphones. For 5G smartphones, camera will be the highlight that draws the most attention as image is playing a more important role in the era of artificial intelligence. The collection and subsequent processing of 3-dimentional (3D) data is essential to augmented reality (AR), autonomous driving and many other applications.
In addition, 5G smartphones will be deeply integrated with advanced imaging technologies such as virtual reality (VR), which presents a special set of new requirements to camera devices. As optical upgrade accelerates, and cameras on one smartphone are multiplied from single to dual, triple and even more. Such changes in quantity and quality cater to consumers' pursuit of a pleasant visual experience and enhance the realism on social media interaction.
"Multi-camera" has greatly increased the difficulty of phone manufacturing. The varied needs of the market for camera modules also lead to the diversified design of internal and external structures. Furthermore, since smartphones demand higher performance in signal transmission, manufacturers tend to choose glass or ceramics materials for back shells, making them vulnerable to deformation or damage if dropped. As a result, more stringent requirements are imposed on the metal frame of cameras.
Given such demands and challenges, how can camera rings be strengthened so that they adapt to increasingly complicated camera modules? And how can module components be arranged within a limited space?
"5G will bring about revolutionary changes and keep posting new requirements for materials," said Dr. Oliver Zhang, EDM/MK, Key Account Manager and Sales Greater China, BASF. "BASF Catamold® focuses on innovation, as well as the optimization of products and services, to help customers shape the future of electronics." Apart from camera rings, Catamold® is also widely used in subscriber identification module (SIM) cards, connectors, complexly structured key holders, slide rails of smartphones, and the outer rings of smart wearing devices.
The 2019 CCTV Spring Festival Gala was broadcast live in Beijing and Shenzhen in 4K HD video with the 5G technology. The video streaming turned out to be smooth, clear and stable. Beijing's Fangshan District collaborated with China Mobile to build the first 5G autonomous driving demonstration zone and the first road for the development and testing of 5G autonomous vehicles in China at the high-end manufacturing site. The world's first 5G railway station supported by a 5G indoor digital system has also commenced construction at Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station. For the first time, a station will use 5G technology to display 4K HD backhaul video and offer passengers access to HD video calls. The 5G technology will also be applied to natural disaster relief as high-quality and real-time signal transmission supports surgeries remotely to save more lives.
In the future, the inherent boundary between people and things will be broken – all people and objects will exist in an organic digital ecosystem where the Internet of Everything will be ultimately realized. We are lucky to witness that along with each technological leap. Chemistry-based innovations have been playing important roles in the sectors of transportation, air-quality improvement, buildings, infrastructure, smart manufacturing, and agriculture. Even more so in the 5G era.