How to Select a 5G Module: Focus on Finding the Right Fit for Your Deployment

Nov 9, 2023

5G brings with it compelling new opportunities thanks to the high throughput, low latency and device density per cell the technology can support. A new generation of use cases and enabling devices is now available that depends on 5G capabilities to deliver rich experiences and outcomes. 5G itself is not a unified category and consists of multiple variants and technical approaches. Therefore, organizations looking to utilize 5G in their devices should carefully assess their performance priorities and specify modules that fit their requirements closely.

It is essential to select modules that are optimized for the specific 5G attributes each deployment requires. For example, a communication service such as fixed wireless access (FWA) will be focused on the extended mobile broadband (eMBB) capabilities of 5G. In contrast, a deployment in the retail or manufacturing sectors will target the massive IoT capabilities that 5G device density per cell enables, while the automotive and medical sectors will look to 5G’s ultra-low latency communications (URLLC) capabilities.

Sub-6GHz or mmWave?

There are several baseline technical considerations to address before getting into the fine detail of module performance. First, the deployment scenario should be considered so organizations understand what 5G frequencies are available in all locations in which the solutions will be deployed. Then, they can easily identify which best suits the deployment’s situation. 

Broadly speaking, there are two options to consider; 5G mmWave which operates in 6-100GHz frequency bands to deliver extremely high capacity, ultra-high throughput and ultra-low latency, and the Sub-6GHz category, which utilizes lower frequency spectrum that can travel further and penetrate solid objects such as buildings. 

5G mmWave offers theoretical speeds of up to 10.0Gbps which is a huge contrast to the 100-200Mbps that LTE offers. However, mmWave spectrum doesn’t offer the broad coverage that Sub-6GHz supports so there is a trade-off between coverage and speed between the two. There are 5G modules available that support both Sub-6 GHz and mmWave as well modules that support only one so it’s important to make module selections based on the frequency bands a service will utilize.

RedCap for Simpler Services

A further consideration is what capacity a deployment really needs. 5G is a new and expensive technology and therefore is a relatively costly option for connecting devices. This is being addressed with the introduction of 5G reduced capacity (RedCap) which delivers some of the high speeds and low latency of full 5G at a fraction of the cost. 5G RedCap delivers throughputs of up to 220 Mbps downlink and up to 100 Mbps uplink which, although a shadow of 5G’s gigabits of capacity, is still substantially more powerful than narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) and Cat-M1. The first RedCap modules are already available with commercial RedCap devices set to follow closely. 

5G RedCap is therefore expected to address applications that involve simpler and lower-cost IoT devices such as sensors and actuators that send small packets of information continuously and require a long battery life. Such applications do not fit neatly into any initial use cases defined by the 5G NR standard, which makes RedCap an appealing technology for these use cases without requiring users to adopt full 5G. Release 17 specifies three RedCap use cases: industrial wireless sensors, health wearables and surveillance devices.

5G RedCap Use-Cases

MIMO Means Business

Maximizing performance and spectrum utilization is fundamental to 5G performance. Multi-In Multi-Out (MIMO) technology ensures higher spectrum efficiency by 5G devices, guaranteeing network performance and enhanced throughput rate. In Multi-User Massive MIMO this means multiple users can be supported more efficiently while for single users, downlink 4x4 MIMO/uplink 2x2 MIMO ensures individual devices are supported. 

If enhanced performance such as this is required, it is important to select a 5G module that can support the number of antennas that MIMO demands. This means the module must offer the correct number of antenna ports to enable the spatial multiplexing that enables MIMO to increase the bit rate.

Global, Regional, or National?

Another important consideration is where the devices will be deployed. Different markets have different approaches to 5G with spectrum available in different bands from country to country. Also, to utilize cellular networks devices must be certified by individual carriers. It is possible to select modules that cover global markets and bands but this comes at a higher cost. For use cases that require costs that better fit the business there are multiple modules available for national or regional deployments and these may have local pre-certifications that can help to accelerate overall device certification.

Fallback is the Failsafe Mechanism

5G is still being rolled out in some markets and coverage is far from ubiquitous so a further choice needs to be made regarding which alternative network a module will also enable connection to as a failover. This could be other cellular technologies, such as LTE or even narrowband-IoT. These won’t deliver 5G performance but they will enable basic communication to take place. Non-cellular alternatives can be suitable such as low power wide area (LPWA) networks, Wi-Fi in all its variants and satellite connections. A module that can support various fallback options ensures uninterrupted device operation, although without 5G performance.

Beyond the Basics

Once these fundamental issues have been decided, the shopping list of essential attributes for an IoT module is defined and an organization can go to market to choose the module that best matches its requirements. Quectel has been at the forefront of 5G module development introducing its 5G NR 3GPP Release 17 modules at Mobile World Congress this year. The Quectel RG650V and RG650E series are designed to support FWA and eMBB use cases such as high-definition video, augmented and virtual reality and drone use cases.

Quectel envisages the modules being utilized in FWA devices such as enterprise and home gateways, industrial routers, customer premise equipment (CPE), database transaction units (DTUs) and mobile hotspots.

The RG650E and RG650V modules are based on the latest Snapdragon X75 and Snapdragon X72 5G Modem-RF systems from Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., and operate in the sub-6 GHz spectrum, supporting carrier aggregation, and offering bandwidths of 300 MHz and 200 MHz respectively. Maximum data rates are 7.01Gbps downlink and 1.25 Gbps uplink. The modules also feature backward compatibility with LTE and WCDMA networks. Control interfaces include USB 3.0, PCIE 3.0, PCM and up to 10Gbps USXGMII and the module will support Wi-Fi7.  The Snapdragon X72 and Snapdragon X75 are built using an advanced 4nm process which enables superior performance and power efficiency. In addition, the quad core Arm Cortex A55 processor is highly suitable for SOC (OPENWRT) application scenarios.

RG650V & RG650E 5G Modules by Quectel

Further use cases these modules are suitable for include mobile broadband devices such as consumer laptops, industrial tablets and industrial automation devices such as automated guide vehicles (AGVs), remotely controlled equipment and robots. Use cases are live today in sectors from smart mining to smart cities.

Global eMBB

Quectel’s comprehensive range of 5G modules also includes the Quectel RG520F series of 5G Sub-6GHz LGA modules optimized specifically for IoT and eMBB applications. Adopting the 3GPP Rel-16 technology, the series supports both 5G non-standalone and standalone (NSA and SA) modes and is compatible with 4G and 3G networks. The modules are pin-to-pin compatible with Quectel's 5G RG50xQ module series.

The RG520F series is an industrial-grade module for industrial and commercial applications that can meet various customer application demands for high speed, large capacity, low latency, and high reliability. It offers maximum data rates of 4.0Gbps downlink and 900Mbps uplink with worldwide 5G and LTE-A coverage. In addition, a multi-constellation GNSS receiver is available for applications that require fast and accurate fixes in any environment. The Quectel RG520F and RG520N modules also support optional voice over LTE (VoLTE).

Quectel's RG520F Module

Increased Options with RedCap

The Quectel RG255C is a series of small LGA modules based on 3GPP Release 17 RedCap technology which supports 5G SA mode and is backwards-compatible with the 4G network. The module series supports a theoretical peak data rate on 5G SA networks of 220 Mbps downlink and 100 Mbps uplink, while also supporting advanced 5G features such as URLLC and power saving. It is compatible with Quectel's EG2x 4G range of modules.

The RG255C is designed for the global market and covers nearly all the mainstream carriers worldwide. The module supports L1+L5 precise and power-optimized positioning. The integrated GNSS capability greatly simplifies product design, and provides quicker, more accurate and more dependable positioning capability.

Quectel's RG255C Module and its Use Cases

A rich set of internet protocols, industry-standard interfaces, including USB 2.0, PCIe 2.0, SGMII, I2C, GPIO, and functionalities, such as USB drivers for Windows, Linux and Android are included. These help enable the modules to serve a wide range of applications such as industrial automation, smart cities, smart energy, wearable devices and mid-speed mobile broadband devices.

An Expanding Ecosystem

The vendor community has worked hard to increase the number of modules available to the market and a growing range of options are becoming commercially available. These enable customers to more closely match modules to their deployment requirements. There is no single 5G module that will support every customer’s needs so the increasing range of modules is a vital part of developing the next wave of connected devices and applications.

The good news is that there are now modules on the market that can meet 5G needs from cost-effective RedCap connectivity through to the ultra-low latency demands of specific network slices. Some of this is straightforward and simple – after all, sometimes all an application needs is robust, secure connectivity at sufficient speed to support the service it offers. However, in other scenarios the best effort approach simply isn’t good enough and automated and assisted driving, advanced robotics and remote surgery will all demand mission critical, ultra-low latency, uninterrupted connectivity and ubiquitous coverage. 

Quectel is proud to have developed a complete portfolio of 5G modules to support current and future business cases and unleash the benefits of the 5G era.

Contributed by


Country: China
View Profile