By Sona Dadhania – As the world awaits the full take-off of the next generation of telecommunication technologies, 5G, important stakeholders are preparing for the future of future telecommunications – 6G.

This may seem premature, given that deployment of 5G infrastructure and base stations are not nearly at their peak yet. In fact, IDTechEx forecasts that the high-frequency, high-performance bands of mmWave 5G will only take off in several years.

However, for 6G technologies to eventually be deployed globally in a decade, key research and development activities by numerous stakeholders across the supply chain (such as telecommunications operators, component suppliers, materials suppliers, governments, academics, etc.) must take place now.

This includes R&D for low-loss materials, which IDTechEx extensively explores in its report, “Low-Loss Materials for 5G and 6G 2024-2034: Markets, Trends, Forecasts”.


A look into 6G and its current status

First, it is important to understand the 5G frequency bands to understand why the 6G frequency bands seem so promising. 5G’s frequency bands include the sub-6GHz band (from 3.5 – 6 GHz) and the millimeter wave (mmWave) band (from 24 – 40 GHz).

While these 5G bands can offer faster data rates, low latency, and enhanced reliability for end-users, 6G can go a step further. 6G will likely include 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.

Compared to 5G, 6G is expected to have a 50x higher data rate and 100x faster speeds.

With such benefits, it is not surprising that research on 6G technologies has been accelerating since 2019. The first major milestone occurred in 2017 when Huawei began its 6G research. Since then, key governmental authorities like the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have opened up THz frequencies for research, while the Chinese government began its research activities for 6G.

Additionally, partnerships and consortiums are shaping up to be important hubs of innovation for future 6G technologies.

Recently, the AI-RAN Alliance was launched with the goal of effectively combining artificial intelligence (AI) with wireless communication technologies; it includes many notable founding members, including Samsung Electronics, Arm, Ericsson, Microsoft, Nokia, NVIDIA, SoftBank, and Northeastern University.


Overcoming the key technical challenges of 6G

The two biggest challenges that will need to be addressed for 6G technologies are:

  • Very short signal propagation range
  • Signal loss due to line-of-sight obstacles (like buildings, trees, etc.)

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

For THz communications, low-loss materials that help minimise signal loss will be critical to enabling new 6G technologies and applications.


Approaches to low-loss materials for 6G

While the precise performance targets needed for 6G are still unknown, it can be expected that next-generation low-loss materials must 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 PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) and reinforced epoxy thermosets.

Others are 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 (PI) and poly p-(phenyl ether) (PPE) are being developed into build-up materials for substrates.

However, more substantial research activity is taking place for inorganic materials for integrated packages. 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.

Additionally, many papers are exploring novel ceramic compositions for low-temperature co-fired ceramics (LTCC) for 6G applications.

Lastly, other research approaches are utilizing less conventional materials, like low-cost thermoplastics, silica foams, or wood-based composites. The diversity in approaches explored by IDTechEx shows not only the level of interest in low-loss materials for 6G but also offers a look into how diverse the future landscape of low-loss materials for 6G may be.


Market forecasts for low-loss materials for 5G and 6G

The IDTechEx report, “Low-Loss Materials for 5G and 6G 2024-2034: Markets, Trends, Forecasts”, explores the technology developments and market trends driving the growth of the low-loss materials market for next-generation telecommunications.

IDTechEx forecasts future revenue and area demand for low-loss materials for 5G while carefully segmenting the market by frequency (sub-6 GHz vs mWave), six material types, and three application areas (smartphones, infrastructure, and CPEs) to provide sixty different forecast lines.


Sona Dadhania is senior technology analyst at IDTechEx