Donald Shepherd, Chairman, AR RF/Microwave Instrumentation
MPD: Millimeter wave frequencies will be used for cellular communications for the first time in 5G. What challenges and opportunities does this present for the microwave industry?
Until recently, mmWave technologies were used solely by the military in applications consisting of satellite communications and by radar systems. Now, 5G is changing that paradigm. Use of 5G is a game changer, spawning the development of new products. mmWave technology can foster new solutions to the design, evaluation and application of future microwave industries.
Since mmWaves have high atmospheric attenuation and can’t travel through buildings or obstacles, this calls for new transmission concepts like small cells and massive MIMO (Multiple-Input Multiple-Output) to prevent carrier signals from being dropped. This need has also created an opportunity for new signal amplification and antenna technologies.
The convergence of these technologies surely poses inevitable challenges to protect the 5G proprietary modulation techniques and RF immunity from unintended threats. Sectors such as EMC testing, R&D and product performance testing will require reliable solid-state amplifiers to cope with the current stringent test requirements and methodologies imposed by the international compliance and safety communities. Solid-state amplifiers allow for the cleanest reproduction of the intended signal while also providing the highest mismatch tolerance to be able to handle many different types of antennas and loads.
AR is already pushing solid-state amplification boundaries in the 1–6 GHz and 6–18 GHz bands and is setting its sights on solid-state solutions up to 40 GHz, where 5G will live. Solutions above 40 GHz are available as well. These amps maintain the power, quality, reliability and mismatch handling that users have come to expect with all AR amplifiers.
MPD: What RF and microwave technologies do you feel will have the greatest impact in our industry overall between now and 2020?
The emerging technologies like autonomous driving, virtual/augmented reality, Internet of Things (IoT) and emerging 5G will continue to grow and influence the commercial, automotive, and defense industries through 2020.
Of course, enabling such developments requires the use of solid-state transistor technologies, such as gallium nitride (GaN) and indium phosphide (InP). AR is already utilizing many of the new and advanced component technologies (GaN and InP) on the market to design the highest quality RF amplifiers in the industry. This, along with proprietary state-of-the-art amplifier module and combiner designs are what allows AR to achieve the incredibly wide bandwidths and extremely high powers that we are known for. These characteristics allow for much more flexibility and complexity in threat amplification which are becoming wider in bandwidth and higher in amplitude.
In terms of system-level technologies, AR is continuing to add new features and standards capabilities to our Multi-Tone system equipment for radiated and conducted susceptability testing. With the ubiquitous and congested nature of electromagnetic (EM) threats in today’s world, the Multi-Tone can produce a more realistic representation of these real-world threats, as opposed to the traditional single-tone methodology presently used. Additionally, the Multi-Tone provides a significant reduction in test time over traditional single-tone testing, which benefits the user through higher testing throughput and faster time to market and much lower test costs.
MPD: After years of hype and little to show for it, IoT networks are actually being deployed in a variety of applications. Do you believe IoT is a major opportunity for the RF and microwave industry? If so, why and if not, why not?
Don’t be mistaken, we are in the early days of another transformative technology revolution—IoT (Internet of Things). By 2020, 50 billion Internet connected devices will be deployed throughout the world.
The much anticipated 5G rollout and emerging IoT will continue to grow and govern the EM environments of commercial, automotive and military defense industries. The emergence of IoT should have a great positive impact on the products AR manufactures. The more electronic devices with IoT interaction, the greater the potential for disturbance (RF interference) among them. The biggest challenge for these IoT applications will be RF security and safety, resulting in the need for appropriate EMC testing of these products to ensure their proper operation in the intended environments. These will require RF immunity turnkey solutions in which AR specializes.
AR satisfies customer specific requirements on top of meeting international compliance standards and can provide solutions for turnkey emissions systems as well. It is also certain that the upfront adaption of EMC design and preliminary EMC testing using AR’s turnkey solutions (i.e. emission and immunity) of these products would provide manufacturers with a great opportunity to excel and outshine the competition with quality testing and early time to market.
In many instances, pretesting a product reduces failures identified during formal testing, and offers design engineers a great opportunity to find the best solution. As with formal test systems, AR can assist design engineers with the development of product pre-qualification test systems. A prime example of achieving the benefits of pre-qualification while using a fully qualified test system is the use of AR’s Multi-Tone immunity test system. This system provides a more realistic representation of a real-world threat while accelerating the speed of traditional testing.
MPD: We believe that the defense industry will retain its crucial importance to the RF and microwave industry regardless of overall DoD budget constraints. Do you agree with this statement? Either way, please explain your reasoning.
In spite of these budgetary challenges within the defense industry, there are many opportunities for those with products or systems of unique value to offer the military marketplace. AR offers a full portfolio of technologies across the RF/ microwave spectrum. Our capabilities and products include a broad range of booster amplifiers, embeddable modules for tactical military radios covering HF, VHF and UHF bands and high power amplifiers and systems for immunity testing. These products are highly reliable, battle-tested, airborne-certified, gunship-approved, and are proven to operate in the harshest environments. We have a long-term commitment to this important sector, as shown by the expansion of our Souderton, PA factory which accommodates production of 50,000 Watt CW RF linear amplifiers, and by the expansion of our micro-electronics lab where we routinely assemble wideband chip and wire solid state amplifier products up to 18 GHz. These capabilities allow AR to respond to military requests that others are unable to, due to their lack of technology and infrastructure.