by Liam Devlin, CEO – Plextek RFI
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?
The defense market is likely to retain its focus on funding the development of technologies with the potential to reduce the overall cost of operations. Cyber security will remain a key area of interest, as will UAV control and communications. As UAV technology continues to develop, so will anti-drone technology (including further advances in radar), creating something of escalating measure/counter measure competition. For the RF and microwave industry, component/subsystem miniaturization and high efficiency power amplification are likely to be two key areas of demand. Plextek RFI has ongoing programs for the development of custom GaAs MMICs and GaN PAs (discrete and MMIC) that reflect this requirement.
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?
This is already an area where Plextek RFI is very active. At the moment, we’re mainly involved in designing custom MMICs for prototype mm-wave 5G systems. Most mm-wave 5G systems are based on phased-array antenna architectures. The prototype systems under development will need to be evaluated and optimized, which will provide opportunities for microwave test instrumentation suppliers. As the system implementations are proven and 5G standards (and frequency bands) are finalized, additional opportunities will arise for the supply of component parts in high production volumes.
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.
The IoT is generating enormous interest because of the potentially huge volumes in which products will be deployed. However, there will not be a single standard for IoT applications; indeed there are many IoT applications already active with a range of connectivity solutions including Bluetooth®, LTE Cat-0 and Cat-1, and WiFi, as well as proprietary ISM band solutions. Newer LTE cellular standards—Cat-M1 and NB-IoT—will begin to make their mark during 2017. In terms of the benefits of IoT to the RF and microwave industry, these are potentially huge. We already have wireless street lights, fleet management and vehicle tracking, and a host of other M2M applications—these are all IoT solutions. The deployment and application of IoT connected devices will continue to grow throughout 2017.
MPD: In your opinion, what are the RF and microwave technologies to watch in 2017?
Innovations in mm-wave technology will continue throughout 2017. There is a huge amount of development effort underway to realize practical mm-wave systems capable of allowing very high speed access to mobile devices for 5G. At the moment, many different strategies and frequency bands are under investigation. While there will inevitably be rationalization of both the overall approach and frequency band(s) by the time real-world 5G systems are deployed, the technological advancements can provide benefits across a range of applications.
GaN technology has allowed the realization of RF and microwave power amplifiers with very high output power levels and efficiencies. New devices (both discrete and MMIC) with impressive performance will continue to be released during 2017 and new GaN components and processes offering performance to 40GHz and beyond will become increasingly available.