The Need for High-Speed Connectivity
Modern electronic equipment communicates faster than ever before. Whether in the domestic market or at the edge of space, machines share data at an unprecedented rate. The Internet of Things (IoT) allows devices to share data with each other, providing real-time monitoring and the ability to interact with remote equipment. High speed connectors and their associated cabling are the nervous system of this industry, providing pathways for sharing the massive amount of data required.
The Evolution of High-Speed
Some of the earliest experiments with high-speed transmission used coaxial cables. The first patent for coaxial cable dates from the 1880s; by the second decade of the 20th Century, it formed the backbone of the telecommunications network. It was capable of the signal speeds required for voice and text communication – so when the need for computer networks arose, coaxial cable was the natural choice.
The move from coaxial to twisted pair cables occurred as data rates continued to rise and the demand for more connections grew. Ethernet networks moved to a structured wiring solution. Twisted pairs became the norm, and BNC connectors gave way to multi-pin modular connectors. Data transfer rates up to 100Mbps (Megabits per second) were considered high, and perhaps even the performance limit of copper-based connector.
Breaking the 10Gbps Barrier
A quarter of a century later, this is now regarded as low speed. In an era of high-speed internet, wireless communications and video streaming, data rates of 6Gbps are commonplace. The introduction of the 5G cellular network enables hand-held devices to communicate at speeds in excess of 10Gbps.
Wireless networks are capable of the same communication speeds as traditional wired networks. However, there is still a need for connectors that can deliver high-speed performance, on the devices themselves and in the data centers and base stations that are crucial to the modern communications network.
High-Speed Challenges – Signal Integrity
As the requirement for higher data rates becomes more common, the quality and accuracy of the data transmitted is vital. Connector designers work hard to ensure Signal integrity (SI) is maintained.
SI is a measure of the quality of the electrical signals that are transmitted over a cable and through connectors, comparing losses from one end of the connection to the other. Many factors, both internal and external, have an effect on SI. For instance, engineers need to be aware of the effects of electromagnetic interference (EMI) from the external environment on the quality of the signals that are carried through a connector system.
Just as important are the trends in modern connectors. As data rates increase, there is a need for smaller connectors with higher pin counts, and the trend is towards connectors with finer pitch to accommodate the extra circuits. This places constraints on the signal trace length on printed circuit boards and the design of the cables.
The increased pin counts and the reduced spacings have the potential to create crosstalk – the interference of a signal within one cable by its neighbor. This means that designers need connectors that are specifically manufactured to preserve the signal integrity of high-speed signals.
How connectors are enabling high speed computing and communications
Every aspect of modern technology benefits from the high-speed revolution. Smartphones dominate the consumer world, not only in the telecommunications market, but also the personal computing sector, aided by the introduction of 5G technology. However, the potential applications for 5G technology extend far beyond the consumer world. The industrial market has embraced the latest high-speed communications to create the smart factory, a new way to organize the manufacturing environment.
Outside the safety of the factory floor, high-speed communications systems are being deployed into the field. Industries such as automotive, aerospace and defense are taking advantage of this new technology to provide navigation, communications and data sharing functionality. The connectors required for these applications will be subjected to shock, vibration and harsh environments.
Technologies and Solutions
The high-speed connectors employed in fixed installations such as data centers and mobile base stations are not designed with the reliability needed for use in the field. Creating connectors for these demanding applications requires an in-depth understanding of the conditions that will be found in harsh environments.
The new generation of high-speed connectors will use the established features for preserving signal integrity such as differential pairs, shielding and ground-planes, but will employ advanced manufacturing techniques. The use of machined contacts is common practice for connectors that are deployed into high vibration applications, with excellent conductivity and mechanical stability. Connector housings will be manufactured from high-performance polymers for superior strength.
Harwin and High-Speed Connectivity
Harwin has a firm track record supplying multi-pole connectors of the highest quality for service in many different applications across the globe. Already well-versed in the requirements of reliable products, Harwin is applying its knowledge to a range of high-speed connection solutions for demanding applications.
By leveraging expertise in high-performance products, Harwin has created a small and lightweight high-speed connector family for the next generation of equipment. Further expansion in this area of connectivity is already scheduled, so keep watching for more additions to the range.
The recent advances in high-speed communications provide opportunities in a wide range of industries. Traditional connectivity solutions may not meet the data rate requirements found in these demanding applications, and there is a need for solutions that will provide superior performance in delivering these high-speed communications. Harwin continues to develop new products, helping design engineers in all industries to connect with confidence.
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