Yonghui Shu, President and CEO, SAGE Millimeter, Inc.
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 microwave industry will need to push itself to perform at higher frequencies. This means not only equipment and supplier capabilities, but also personnel and talent acquisition. SAGE Millimeter has always been focused on the millimeter wave frequencies, and we have witnessed this slow shift as microwave companies start looking to update their capabilities. Even the most experienced microwave companies have had much to consider as they explore the extremely high frequency world.
The first challenge facing microwave companies is going to be related to internal talent. From a design perspective, we have witnessed how many microwave engineers need continued technical education to catch up with the decades of experience designers at millimeter wave frequencies have. Many of the assumptions applicable in microwave may not always reliable in millimeterwave, especially when products do not always perform to simulations in real life. Inevitably, if the frequency moves from 10 GHz to 100 GHz, the tolerance and workmanship standard may need to be improved by a factor of five or even ten. This is why experience in manufacturing, especially in assembly and technician teams, will also prove to be a challenge. Microwave companies will need to acquire and train team members, so that they are able to work at higher frequencies with a much higher skill level and tighter process control.
Another challenge they face is the capital commitment they need to make in terms of their test equipment. One of the reasons SAGE developed its test equipment extenders for V-band through D-band is to alleviate some of this pressure. The cost of test equipment can be prohibitive, especially trying to expand the test capacity. Therefore, to have a low cost alternative, instead of paying top dollar by purchasing everything from big box equipment manufacturers has been well-received by the industry. SAGE offers extenders for scalar network analyzers, signal generators, noise figure and gain testing, and vector network analyzers. The full-band extenders are designed to extend low frequency signal sources or generators to higher millimeter wave frequency ranges.
Finally, microwave companies will be challenged in their partners and supply chain. The semiconductor and device landscape can look very different in the millimeter wave space. There are fewer options, less reliable performance, and a much bigger price tag. Aside from this, there is again the precision machining consideration. Tolerances in the millimeter wave frequencies can be extremely unforgiving, and few machine shops have the full repertoire of equipment and talent to achieve the machining needed for frequencies above 50 GHz.
MPD: What RF and microwave technologies do you feel will have the greatest impact in our industry overall between now and 2020?
The year 2020 is just around the corner, and industry players can really feel the marketplace energizing. The most exciting technology is still in the area of semiconductors and multi-function modules. These products are absolutely pushing the limits of technology. Whether it is the latest GaN chip or a complex integrated transceiver, they are the reason we are seeing more volume and more growth in the commercial sector of our industry.
On the other hand, we never take for granted the humble waveguide. It is not “old” technology, per se, and we cannot forget that it is one of the highest performing transmission structures for millimeter wave components and subassemblies. At high frequencies, especially at 40 GHz or higher, the circuits or components based on waveguide structures can deliver superior performance over many other transmission line structures, such as microstrip lines.
By combining waveguide structures and new device technologies, many components and subassemblies can be realized to fulfill stringent system requirements. SAGE uses both the old and the new to develop these high performing products for system applications.
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, we believe that IoT is still a major opportunity for the RF and microwave industry because it is consumer-driven and has the potential to touch the lives of individuals on a daily basis. In fact, WiGig is already here. This means that there is permanence for this technology. And for manufacturers in this space, there is volume. Despite the implementation challenges, the deployment of IoT paves the way for new businesses and new technology. This increases the size of the marketplace for companies like SAGE Millimeter, and we are starting to see this shift already. Currently, our customer base is extremely diverse, and many of the new customers we acquire are new names. Sometimes they are start-ups and other times they are legacy brands that have found a need for this ubiquitous technology. Meeting these new players is one of the most exciting parts of running our business today.
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.
Yes, we agree that the defense industry will still be important to the RF and microwave industry. Even if the government imposes limits to its budget, the DoD will always be a leader in pushing research and development. As the commercial world catches up in applying the newer RF and microwave technology to industry, the technology becomes more widespread, which may benefit DoD applications. However, we strongly trust that while the commercial applications expand, the defense industry will always want to be at the cutting edge of new developments.