ICM Solutions for 5G Cellular Networks

By John Hess | January 26, 2021

The arrival of 5G networks compels designers to consider new connectivity strategies, including supporting technologies such as integrated connector modules (ICMs). Designers should consider four key questions when selecting components for 5G applications. 

The fifth generation of broadband standard, 5G, will deliver the high speeds, low latencies, and abundant bandwidth needed to open up countless new applications for a fully connected society, leading in turn to exponential growth rates of transported data. 5G rollouts are underway around the globe, driving a rapid growth in base stations and increased demand for backhaul connectivity. Processing and storing huge volumes of data will have a fundamental impact on data center capacity and topology, and adopting 5G will require cities and business owners to adapt their networks.

5G networks

End users, operators, and suppliers in the 5G ecosystem will depend on companies like Bel for the timely provision of high quality, reliable components to build the fabric of their 5G networks.

5G Power and Data Demands 

5G network speeds and reduced latencies allow many applications to offload computation-intensive tasks to data centers, driving a significant increase in demand for cloud computing and data traffic. At the same time, telecom operators are modifying central offices to add server racks able to sustain computationally intensive tasks. With current technology, 2kWh of energy is required to download one gigabyte (GB) of data. One major driver for data traffic is video streaming, which has seen explosive growth in the COVID-19 era. This growth is being supported by the increasing availability of connectivity services and 5G networks. Higher port densities, more bandwidth capability, and higher per-port power output are essential to driving the infrastructure of these new 5G networks, both inside telecommunication closets and outside on the streets. The new 5G networks will also implement a dense, distributed network of base stations in a small cell infrastructure to allow more processing to happen on the edge and help achieve lower latencies. Ideally, the power required to operate these base stations and small cells will be supplied by switches within the network infrastructure.

5G requires expaned datacenters and ICM connectors

Data center owners and telecom companies are adding more power, cooling, servers, racks, and other components to existing infrastructure to support the demands of 5G connectivity.


Although the arrival of 5G may raise questions over the future of Ethernet, most analysts agree that it will have a key role to play for many years to come. Ethernet’s ability to combine power and data delivery underpins its flexibility and cost effectiveness for a broad range of home and enterprise applications, such as access points, surveillance cameras, VoIP phone systems, and LED lighting. The arrival of single-pair Ethernet (SPE) positions the technology to operate effectively in high-speed architectures, and SPE hold considerable potential for industrial architectures. Combined with 5G, SPE will help usher in the next era of automation.

Power over ethernet for 5G

Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) has significant utility in delivering power and data to connected devices.

Integrated Connector Modules 

The role of integrated connector modules (ICMs) in 5G deployments is to connect the Ethernet devices within central offices and local area networks. Ethernet switches are connected to wireless access points, base stations, and small cells used to transmit and receive data. These products can be configured with Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) technology to power each other with low-voltage current. The delivery of 5G data depends heavily on Ethernet connections, with ICMs acting as the connection point between networked devices and providing a method for injecting or receiving PoE. ICMs also provide the perfect partner to 5G by integrating the electrical interfacing circuitry, or magnetics, into the connector to help conserve prime PCB real estate. In addition, by virtue of their ability to add 5G levels of bandwidth to existing forms of connectivity, such as wireless access points, base stations, security cameras, and industrial controls, ICMs will become an even more critical component of 5G networks. They will also experience increased use in PoE solutions, as they help build out networks in a minimally invasive way. Access to ICMs offering up to 16 ports with 100W of PoE at 10GBase-T bandwidths will help 5G further extend its reach as network operators look to monetize increased capacity quickly.

Bel Magnetic PoE connectors

An example circuit illustrating the ability to access the center taps in any Bel Magnetic Solutions PoE connector.

Four Things Designers Should Consider When Selecting ICMs for 5G Applications 

Do I need PoE capability and if so, how much? PoE can be an important feature in end applications. It can be used to power another device, or it can be used to power the device at hand. This capability does add unit cost, but it saves on operating costs because PoE is DC current rather than AC from a wall outlet and DC current uses less power and is easier to install. In terms of individual power needs, PoE is capable of providing anywhere from a few watts to 100W of DC power. Understanding your application will help you determine exactly how much power you need.

What Ethernet speeds do I need to support? Most 5G cellular applications are looking to future-proof the equipment so it doesn’t need to be replaced every few years. So, the higher the Ethernet speed you choose, the longer your product will be useful in the 5G network, and potentially extending into the 6G era. Many applications are looking for 10GBase-T speeds and the maximum of 100W of PoE, as these features provide the longest possible life on the market.

How many ports and which port configurations should my box have? RJ45 Ethernet ICMs come in many shapes and sizes and their utility largely depends on the type of box that’s being designed. Small wireless access points only need one or two ports, whereas switches need many more. ICM connectors offer up to 16 ports and can be used one at a time or in multiples. Consider using a dual-row, ganged, 2xN version to save both space and cost. PoE options are available in all configurations.

Bel Magnetic ICMs for 5G

As both the inventor and the largest supplier of integrated connector modules (ICMs), Bel Magnetic Solutions has the broadest portfolio of ICM products available, to meet the needs of 5G infrastructure expansion. Bel and TRP ICMs support 10/100Base-T to 10GBase-T and up to 100W PoE, as well as non-PoE applications.

What additional product features do I need from the Ethernet port? Depending on your application, you may need extra features. Some devices are very slim and need compressed-height ICMs. Other applications need connectors that mount vertically on the PCB for ease of access or extended operating temperatures, and some Ethernet physical layer devices require special ICM circuitry to operate in peak mode. Users can also add USB connectors or LED indicators to ICMs or special metal shields to enhance the ESD or emissions performance of the end device. All of these extra features and more are available in virtually all ICM configurations from trusted suppliers.

For more information, visit Bel Magnetic Solutions online.

Like this article? Check out our other 5G, Ethernet, networking and Connection Basics articles, our Datacom/Telecom Market Page, and our 2021 and 2020 Article Archives.

John Hess
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