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Microwaves Meet the Cheese Steak Sandwich

Microwaves Meet the Cheese Steak Sandwich
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by Barry Manz, President, Manz Communications, Inc.

I recently came upon a folder I’ve been adding to on Google Drive called “IMS Sessions,” which contains PDF files showing all the technical sessions for the last 11 years. Scanning through them and then looking at this year’s program revealed some interesting insights and showed how far this industry has changed in just a few years, and also where it’s headed. Although some broad session topics have been the same for years, they have a more practical bent today, and others simply did not—and could not—have existed even five years ago.

For example, millimeter-wave technology has always been a hot topic, but not much was really going on in this region of the spectrum until relatively recently. Yes, there have long been missile seekers, satellite communications systems, and a few other applications operating above 18 or 26 GHz. But today, designers are solving challenges that will result in actual hardware rather than exercises in the esoterics of design.

So, when I see sessions dedicated to interconnects for W- and D-band, silicon-based millimeter-wave circuits, and papers on E-band radar transceivers, 35 to 105 GHz receivers, and 110 to 125 GHz CMOS front ends, it’s pretty clear that the authors are focusing on these technologies because military and commercial systems are or will soon be demanding them.

There’s also an IMS/RFIC panel session entitled “Can a Residential Wired Lists Gigabit Internet Connection Compete with Wired Alternative?” For those old enough to remember, this question could also have been raised in the 1990s when the Local Multipoint Distribution System (LMDS) seemed to be one of the next big things. Of course, it died for the lack of cost-effective millimeter-wave technologies to support it, along with the fact that back then all LMDS could’ve provided was the same content everyone was getting from cable.

But today, it’s a whole new ballgame, as more people cut the cord and get their video entertainment delivered by wired broadband in addition to or in place of cable. Pretty soon, the next generation of over-the-air broadcast will usher in ATSC 3.0 that combines content received over the air by a smart TV or home gateway with interactive content delivered by broadband. So it’s not very surprising that one of the first examples of what could truly be called 5G will not be gigabit LTE, but rather fixed wireless access that will compete directly with cable (and fiber), just like LMDS was supposed to do. And it will be doing this at millimeter-wave frequencies again, as well.

A decade ago, the people interested in terahertz technologies were mostly radio astronomers, but now this obscure region of the spectrum has become a topic of significant interest at DoD for imaging, jamming, and assorted other applications. In fact, the spectrum beginning at 300 GHz and ending at 3 THz is no longer just a frequency range, but something worthy of a name—Terahertz Technology. It was gratifying to see that there is a focus session on terahertz waves and nanoscale sensing, advances in microwave and terahertz applications in nanotechnology, W-and D-band interconnects, silicon-based millimeter-wave to terahertz circuits, terahertz and millimeter-wave amplification, multiplication, and control innovations, as well as terahertz and millimeter-wave sensing and communication systems, and recent advances in terahertz and Photonics. There are multiple short courses dedicated to terahertz sensing as well.

There is also considerable attention this year to additive manufacturing, which isn’t new to the world but is to the microwave industry, as an increasing number of companies have demonstrated the ability to create microwave and millimeter-wave antennas, conformal antennas, and waveguide components using this technology.

To no one’s surprise, 5G is well represented, either rename or in terms of the technologies that will be required to support it, from ultra-low-power nanowatt to microwatt receivers for IoT, front ends for 5G, tunable passive devices, CMOS, linearization, packaging, tuning, and switching, MIMO, beamforming, phased arrays for 5G, and a lot more. There’s also the 5G Summit dedicated exclusively to the fifth generation of cellular, following the success of last year’s event in Honolulu.

Microwaves in medicine is better represented than usual, due in no small part to the close proximity of the University of Pennsylvania and Jefferson University, representatives of which are giving the keynotes on all three days at the symposium. This is surely a welcome addition to IMS as RF and microwave technology play key roles in medical devices and procedures ranging from RF and microwave ablation to imaging and skin care.

One of the speakers, Dr. Nicholas Ruggiero from Thomas Jefferson, will be addressing treatment of uncontrolled hypertension using a technique called renal denervation, which uses electromagnetic energy is its core technology. It’s just one of the many ways RF and microwave energy as being used to provide alternatives to more conventional techniques for pathologies ranging from cancer to heart disease. Microwaves in medicine is also well supported by a host of papers covering a broad range of techniques in which RF or microwave technology is the driving force.

Another interesting panel session called “5G Power Amplifier, Front End Module: Silicon or III-V—Who Will Win the Race?” couldn’t be more timely as the answer to the question has yet to be determined, and it is indeed a race between silicon, GaAs, GaN, and at lower frequencies, the incumbent, LDMOS.

All this material plus much more will make this year’s IMS arguably one of the most impressive in a very long time and a precursor to the future as well. Combine this with a tasty Philly cheese steak, hoagie (known elsewhere as a sub sandwich or a grinder), or a couple of Lancaster County’s famous pretzels, and you’ve got a very tasty agenda.

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