David Vye, Director of Technical Marketing, AWR Group National Instruments
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?
The available spectrum at millimeter wave (mmWave) frequencies will provide the bandwidth for the high data rates and low latency required for 5G communications. 5G deployment will support a multitude of business needs in three significant use cases: massive machine-type communication (also known as Massive IoT), which calls for ubiquitous connectivity for hundreds of thousands of low-power devices for smart cities, building automation, and fleet management; Critical IoT (cMTC) or ultra-reliable and low-latency communications (URLLC) that will address low-latency monitoring and control in real time; and enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) that will offer high data rates and low latency to mobile subscribers and businesses.
The use of mmWave frequencies for communications presents design challenges, starting with the propagation of the radio signal. As observed in the Friis transmission equation, the shorter the wavelength, the shorter the transmission range for a given power as free-space losses rise. In addition, atmospheric absorption, scattering from precipitation, and poor foliage/building penetration further degrades mmWave signals in both rural and urban areas. New 5G architectures built around a diverse and widely-deployed network of microcells can overcome some of these challenges, but will require efficient antennas, multiple-in-multiple-out (MIMO), and steerable antenna array technologies, along with high-performance yet cost-effective RF front ends.
NI AWR Design Environment software and NI test solutions support component manufacturers and system integrators developing these new products with advanced simulation and measurement technologies. These products enable leading manufacturers to tackle the challenges of mmWave connectivity for 5G as witnessed through our ongoing work with researchers developing hardware solutions for the proposed frequencies, data rates, and physical deployment requirements specified by the 3GPP 5G governing standards body. The resulting software and test solutions are accelerating the pace of 5G prototype development with tools that predict and capture mmWave performance in consideration of 5G waveforms, channel characteristics, and communication system performance metrics.
MPD: What RF and microwave technologies do you feel will have the greatest impact in our industry overall between now and 2020?
Semiconductor technology has driven substantial advances in the RF/microwave industry from a system capability perspective. That will certainly be true with 5G and its targeted rollout in 2020. Both gallium nitride (GaN) and complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) are advancing in terms of their respective performance at higher frequencies and their growing adoption within emerging RF/microwave systems. Included in the advance of microwave monolithic integrated circuit (MMIC)/RFIC devices are the strides being made integrating heterogeneous semiconductor technologies within advanced packaging/modules.
As such, the NI AWR Design Environment EDA platform focuses on the needs of the designer and their success by linking design automation to circuit simulation as well as to the manufacturing processes. Over the past decade (if not more), electromagnetic (EM) simulation has grown in popularity for modeling all forms of high-frequency passive electronic structures and as MMICs/RFICs and all associated modules become more densely integrated and push into higher frequencies, EM simulation will become even more critical.
NI AWR software tightly integrates Microwave Office circuit design software with AXIEM 3D planar and Analyst full 3D EM simulation tools to provide fast and accurate characterization of more complex structures across a diverse, integrated chip, package, board hierarchy.
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?
Yes, as the hype suggests, IoT will be responsible for transforming many industries and businesses. The ability to monitor and control billions of devices will have a huge impact on transportation, city and building management, health, and energy. In Release 13, the 3GPP specified a new radio air interface for Massive IoT applications that focuses specifically on indoor coverage, low-cost devices (less than $5 per module), long battery lifetime (more than 10 years), massive connectivity (supporting many connected devices — around 50,000 per cell), and low latency (less than 10 msec).
The resulting narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) standard will enable operators to expand wireless capabilities using already established mobile networks, handling small amounts of infrequent two way data securely and reliably. This standard utilizes a 180 kHz minimum system bandwidth for both downlink and uplink, enabling three different deployment modes. These are standalone operation, which replaces a GSM carrier (200 kHz) with NB-IoT, allowing for the re-farming of dedicated spectrum; guard-band deployment utilizing the unused resource blocks within an LTE carrier’s guard band; and spectrum inside an LTE carrier allocating one 180 kHz physical resource block (PRB) to NB-IoT.
This reuse of existing LTE and GSM networks should greatly simplify deployment from the carrier perspective. The design challenges will be in the development of efficient devices with extremely low power consumption, small form factor, and excellent coverage. In addition to the baseband, memory, and power management circuitry, these modules include an RF transceiver, power amplifier (23 dBm), switching, filtering (surface acoustic wave or SAW) and antenna (external), so there is a considerable amount of design work and product development ahead of us.
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.
Agreed. The defense industry will continue to be an important consumer of RF/microwave devices for the foreseeable future. According to ResearchandMarkets.com, the global microwave device market is estimated to reach nearly $12 billion by 2024, with increasing demand from the military and defense industry driving much of the market growth over that forecast period. Much of the R&D investment is driven by the need for optimum performance, in terms of low signal loss and high frequency range affecting radar systems used for navigation and weapon systems and satellite and ground-based communication, as well as the continued evolution of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for collecting ground information such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).
As an example, U.S. Air Force researchers are asking for help in developing seamless, adaptive, and self-healing airborne networks to enable communications between manned and unmanned aircraft. This project focuses on three areas: airborne networking management and monitoring; directional airborne networking; and technologies for the joint aerial layer network (JALN). To support this project, contractors will need to develop ad hoc directional tactical edge mesh networking technologies in system-level operation, RF front ends, radios and modems, link and topology control, and networking and system control.
The most recent release of NI AWR Design Environment anticipates the defense industry’s continued demand for more advanced communication and radar systems. Diving deeper into radar development, NI AWR software offers radar, test bench, and phased-array library modules that work seamlessly with Visual System Simulator™ (VSS) system-level design software. The radar library offers radar signal generation, radar-specific target and propagation modeling, and radar signal processing capabilities and is tailored to give easy access to all the needed capabilities for simulations, such as radio-frequency interference (RFI), third-party co-simulation, antenna arrays, and multipath channels. Working with leading defense contractors and their suppliers enables NI AWR software development and support teams to implement capabilities and product customization to fit the evolving needs of the RF/microwave defense market.