5G networking technologies promise to offer instantaneous connections that were previously not thought possible. This new technology is exciting as it will offer more options for businesses and consumers looking for increased speed and responsiveness from their network and will provide a new level of connectivity for emerging applications like IoT and autonomous vehicles. Because of this impending change, to better serve their subscribers, service providers like Verizon are preparing for the 5G world by installing more fiber, which is a move that many predict will provide the foundation for a successful deployment of the new mobile network.
As 5G networking standards continue to solidify, the industry will face thermal management challenges within the network that companies must address to provide reliability, equipment up-time, and flexibility for different operating environments. Below are five different applications that will require new thermal management approaches to provide the foundation for a newly structured 5G network.
- Laser Cooling: The lasers that light up the fiber optics transmission lines of the network require temperature management. Many of these lasers currently use thermoelectric coolers (TECs) to provide active cooling and precise temperature control in the very confined space of the laser package (1 cm2 or less). By using thermoelectric devices, organizations can ensure the laser emits the same wavelength and data rate, so the data is transmitted faithfully to the end point. In a 5G world, the industry will enable higher data rate and lower latency fiber optic networks. However, it is anticipated that lower power consumption and even smaller form factors will be required of new TECs used in these applications to achieve operating requirements.
- Central Offices: The future of the traditional telecommunications central office will likely change due to the upgrade in efficiency that the 5G network will present. As companies look to a new model, many are claiming that the central office will look and operate more like a data center than a traditional telecommunications central office, which will present unique thermal management challenges for this part of the 5G network. A few major considerations for equipment installed in these offices are uptime, power usage efficiency, equipment compatibility, and cooling. Today, cooling is usually achieved at the server level with heatsinks, fans or recirculating water chillers and at the rack and room level with very sophisticated climate control systems, but the new framework offers the opportunity for emerging solutions to break through.
- Cell Tower Cabinets: Cell tower cabinets have sophisticated electronics, which often require active cooling and climate control in extreme temperature environments because they are located outdoors. Similar to central offices, cooling is traditionally achieved with compressor based systems, which have proven inefficiencies when it comes to cooling. Because of these inefficiencies, thermal management systems that offer a reduced form factor, and are able to fit in space-constrained implementations, will prove to be beneficial moving forward. Unique approaches such as geothermal or evaporative cooling may be able to provide ultra-efficient cooling for this use case.
- Small Cells: Small cells were recently added to network infrastructure to increase data capacity, speed, and overall network efficiency. This technology is typically used in very densely populated areas where many people are using data at a given point in time. Traditionally, many cellular equipment sites consist of large cabinets and use noisy fans to provide cooling. When deciding to utilize small cells in densely populated neighborhoods, it will be important to implement a cooling solution that can offer adequate efficiency without the noise and size of legacy systems.
- Access Points: 5G networks will also allow WiFi access points to more transparently tie in to the network. Depending on how they are deployed, this presents the possibility for temperature sensitive electronics to be used in extreme temperature environments, where TECs could act as a heating and cooling solution specifically for that temperature sensitive component. Using this approach allows users to avoid bulky heatsinks or electric heaters, while packing more power and performance into devices.
As the industry looks towards a 5G future, there are many considerations to take into account when selecting a thermal management solution. Additionally, as the foundation continues to solidify for the new network, the industry will be presented a unique opportunity to choose thermal solutions that are different from legacy systems currently on today’s market. As the industry looks for these solutions, smaller, sustainable, more efficient, and cost effective technology that can offer superior thermal management performance will succeed.