by Liam Devlin, CEO, Plextek RFI
MPD: How effective do you believe operation at millimeter wavelengths will be for meeting the challenges of 5G?
I believe that the use of the mmWave frequency bands is essential in order to obtain the sort of data rates on which 5G has been sold. There are difficulties to overcome in operating a cellular communications system at mmWave, not least the much higher path losses suffered by non-line-of-sight links and the difficulty of obtaining in-building reception. Technical solutions such as electronic beam steering have been demonstrated that mitigate the impact of non-line-of-sight links, and these will be incorporated into 5G user terminals. In-building coverage will need to be addressed by seamless switching to a WiFi network or, in the case of office and municipal buildings, by the use of technology such as neutral hosting or distributed antenna systems (DAS). Other operational difficulties will inevitably be encountered, but I believe that the industry will step up and address these as they arise. mmWave 5G technology is still evolving and it’s an exciting industry in which to be involved.
MPD: What RF and microwave technologies will have the greatest impact in the next few years?
Innovative IC packaging for commercial mmWave applications is needed for the successful incorporation of front-end modules (FEMs) into commercial mmWave 5G products. There is a lot of work underway in this area, including the development of Antenna in Package (AiP) components providing all of the mmWave functionality with IF and DC/control interface. This provides a single mmWave component that can be handled by RF product manufacturers in a way with which they’re familiar. This will in turn facilitate the development of mmWave 5G user terminals at commercially attractive prices and allow their rapid uptake in the market.
MPD: In addition to 5G and IoT, what commercial markets will be the most important for the industry in 2020?
I expect that interest in broadband satellite communications at Ku-band and Ka-band will continue to grow. Many regions of the world have no wired infrastructure, and the availability of broadband satellite communications will allow them to benefit from broadband connectivity without the overhead of installing fixed infrastructure.
There will also be significant growth in the demand for high data rate point-to-point links. This is in no small part related to the roll-out of mmWave 5G with its increased density of base stations. A wireless backhaul capability offers much lower deployment costs and faster installation compared to fiber. E-band point to point links are an attractive option due to the availability of large amounts of spectrum (10 GHz of bandwidth at 71 to 76 GHz and 81 to 86 GHz) on a light license basis.
MPD: Is your company having trouble in finding new microwave engineers?
The availability of experienced microwave engineers is certainly on the decline. However, we’ve been encouraged to have recently identified new engineering graduates looking for permanent positions in the microwave and mmWave field. I suspect that the use of mmWave technology for 5G has played a considerable part in this interest, raising the profile of microwave and mmWave engineering and identifying it as a key capability for the future.