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Setting Higher Standards in the Race to Next Generation Wireless

Setting Higher Standards in the Race to Next Generation Wireless

by Ted Heil, President – Mini-Circuits

At  Mini-Circuits, Setting Higher Standards is part of our motto, and it’s never been more relevant. The recent proliferation and evolution of wireless standards like 802.xx, 4G and 5G are pushing wireless technologies to higher frequencies, greater levels of complexity, smaller size, and greater efficiency at an unprecedented pace. Early 5G trials have moved frequency requirements up to 38 GHz, and OEMs are already preparing for higher bands and wider instantaneous bandwidth. This accelerating rate of change in standards has driven the RF and microwave industry to be innovative and produce more products with greater capabilities to keep up with the performance trajectory of our customers.

The new frequency bands and air interface standards are also creating new standards of customer support.  Customers need higher levels of speed and flexibility to respond to new development efforts. Development teams are looking for new hardware solutions, many of which are currently unavailable from traditional wireless RFIC suppliers. They face deadlines for market trials with limited tools and information to develop the required hardware; they know the frequency bands and the basic elements of the standards, but the requirements are still being defined, and designers have to respond on the fly as the new standards develop.  Our role, as a supplier of RF and microwave products, is to innovate as quickly as possible to meet the schedule challenges of these trials.

At Mini-Circuits, one area where we’ve seen this pressure for time to market is in our MMIC products. We’ve already experienced a shift in our MMIC product line from band-dedicated models to more and more wideband designs, and we continue to see customer demand for wider band coverage at higher frequencies. We’ve responded to those demands with a variety of recent product releases that have expanded the range of capabilities in our portfolio. One example is our EP-series of MMIC splitter/combiners which spans applications from 0.5 to 26.5 GHz with bandwidth coverage greater than 4 octaves in a single model.  Our PMA3-83LN+ amplifier provides typical noise figure of 1.3 dB across the entire 0.5 to 8 GHz range without the need for any external matching network.  We’ve even extended the coverage of our line up to 40 GHz with our YAT-series fixed attenuators.  All these products come in response to customer requests and the demand we’re seeing in the marketplace.

Beyond the need for components that fit into systems for these new standards, there’s a related need for adaptation and innovation in test solutions to verify and qualify these new systems.  Growth in both the number and variety of connected devices has driven the need for innovative, and highly customized test solutions. Customers are looking for equipment to multiplex application-specific test systems across multiple DUTs, which requires signal routing, distribution and conditioning functions in a variety of configurations.

Our experience in the test space has evolved according to the needs of our customers, following a progression from test accessories like cables, adapters, and attenuators, to benchtop programmable test modules, to modular and fully customized rack-mountable systems.  The diversity of customer test requirements makes it virtually impossible to realize anything like a standard, one-size-fits-all solution, so we’ve built our business in this area around principles of competence, flexibility, and speed.  We’ve found that this requires the full complement of Mini-Circuits’ capabilities as an organization to successfully serve the market.

Customers are looking to the industry to partner with them to define the test solution for their needs. This requires the competence and expertise of our applications engineers to understand customers’ needs and develop a clear system definition.   The specifications for these solutions are usually being defined concurrently with the design process, forcing test solutions providers to be agile in design and  fabrication of a wide range of unique, user-defined solutions in a very short period of time.  The turnaround time on these test systems directly affects customers’ time to market, so they’re depending on us to deliver a tailored solution, fast.  At Mini-Circuits, we’ve developed a range of small to large switching matrices, signal distribution and level control systems that are used to interface between the DUT and a variety of signal generation and analysis equipment.  To support speed and flexibility, we have capitalized on a building-block approach to developing custom equipment for each customer’s unique needs.  Our wealth and variety of components and subassemblies in stock allows us to create integrated assemblies for a wide range of custom specifications with exceptionally fast turnaround times.

These are only a couple of examples of how the evolution in wireless standards has affected our business, and we expect to see the trend continue and intensify.  These upgrades to our wireless infrastructure will profoundly expand the number and the diversity of applications for microwave technology, and we’re looking forward to supporting our customers, finding new ways and setting higher standards, through this exciting transition.