by John Greichen, VP of Sales and Marketing – Custom MMIC
MPD: The defense market for RF and microwave components through subsystems appears to be more lucrative than in recent years, especially in the area of electronic warfare. If your company sells into the defense market, what are your thoughts about how it will perform in 2017?
While U.S. defense spending has declined steadily as a percentage of GDP since 2011, the military faces demand for improved sensing, control and communications capabilities. This leads to continued increases in RF and microwave electronics spending. We have all seen plenty of news stories about hacking into personal, corporate and government computers by individuals and governments. Preventing such hacking requires constant technology evolution. Translate those challenges into the life and death electronic warfare arena, and you can imagine the performance requirements are growing tremendously. Electronic warfare is a very robust area of development, with strong growth. EW is also one of the more secretive areas. But we can safely say bandwidth, dynamic range, and speed requirements are all increasing for the land, sea, air and space-based EW systems being developed.
Custom MMIC has been dedicated to serving the needs of EW and other defense/satellite electronics systems for more than 10 years now. Our strength is in employing GaAs and GaN technology to create high-performance MMICs. Our growing portfolio of GaAs and GaN MMICs is pushing the performance envelope to help solve the tough SWaP and cost-reduction problems facing our military and space customers. Our BroadRange Distributed AmplifiersTM, with operating frequencies from DC-50 GHz, low-noise figures and high dynamic range, are one example of advanced MMICs serving the EW market.
MPD: The fifth generation of cellular is rapidly approaching and the immense scope of 5G seems almost certain to present significant opportunities for the RF and microwave industry. What is your perspective on this issue?
There’s no question that 5G presents significant opportunities for the RF and microwave industry. But we would dare to offer a bit of a contrarian view on the 5G market timing. Standardization has been projected to be complete between 2018 and 2020. Most cellular operators worldwide, 74 percent according to one survey, have plans to roll out 5G at some point, but not all have indicated timing for those plans. Architectural integration with the 4G LTE and LTE-Advanced networks is a huge effort. Usage scenarios are being debated. All these factors point to a conservative view on timing of a massive rollout of 5G. That said, it is absolutely essential for the RF and microwave industry to support the many ongoing 5G research and initial trials, given some analysts expect over $6 billion will be spent on 5G R&D and trial investments between 2015 and 2020.
The 5G standard is expected to employ broad bandwidths at microwave frequencies. Of course, cellphones and various IoT nodes will upgrade to 5G capability, which represents a huge volume opportunity. High-frequency, broadband infrastructure equipment and lab/field instrumentation are needed for a robust 5G network. These higher performance areas are a great match with Custom MMIC’s portfolio of broadband, high-dynamic range GaAs and GaN MMICs.
MPD: The Internet of Things (IoT) might better be called the Wireless Internet of Things, as without RF and microwave technology, little could be accomplished. If your company is selling into this market, please provide your perspective on IoT and its prospects for the RF and microwave industry.
IoT has many market segments—consumer, industrial, instrumentation, automotive and more. Billions of IoT nodes exist already and high growth is projected. The myriad nodes will have a wide range of operating modes and requirements. Battery powered applications will demand efficient RF and microwave components. Industrial applications will need low latency and redundancy, raising the performance bar for RF and microwave components.
The military and space community is embracing IoT. In fact, we consider the large satellite constellations being planned as being space IoT. And the U.S. Defense Department leaders have identified the “Internet of Things” as a key component of the military’s modernization strategy. Both these IoT segments demand high performance and high reliability, well above commercial requirements.
Custom MMIC relates to these higher-end IoT requirements, extending to full space qualification of our MMICs. The advantages of GaAs and GaN technology, along with circuit innovations, enable these military and space systems to meet their demanding IoT requirements.
MPD: In your opinion, what are the RF and microwave technologies to watch in 2017?
Broader usage of GaN technology is one development area to watch. Most of the focus of GaN to date has been on high-power amplifiers at RF frequencies. Evidence being that GaN power amplifiers are broadly available to serve higher-power cellular and military applications. What’s next is a move to higher frequency GaN amplifiers, well into the Ka and Q bands. Also look for GaN to be employed for different types of amplifiers, such as LNAs, and other RF and microwave functions, like mixers and switches. GaN technology offers high-power handling and high-linearity benefits for all these applications. Custom MMIC is leading the way in this area, with 5W input power handling LNAs and 5W Ka band GaN power amplifiers.
As a fabless designer/manufacturer of MMICs, Custom MMIC feels GaN technology offers significant opportunity, including in space. But GaAs MMICs continue to provide value in many applications and will remain important for the foreseeable future.