by Yonghui Shu, President and CEO – SAGE Millimeter, Inc.
MPD: The defense market for RF and microwave components through subsystems appears to be more lucrative than in recent years, especially in the area of electronic warfare. If your company sells into the defense market, what are your thoughts about how it will perform in 2017?
The use of electromagnetic (EM) energy in warfare has grown, and the EM environment has been recognized as a warfighting domain for almost a decade now. As a millimeter-wave component and subassembly designer and manufacturer, SAGE Millimeter has experienced increasing opportunities to partner with large defense contractors this year, and the trend is expected to continue in 2017. The industry has yet to see whether the new Commander-in-Chief’s plan for more defense spending shall be realized, but in the meantime, the high demand from the commercial sector will continue to make innovative technologies more advanced and affordable for defense applications.
MPD: The fifth generation of cellular is rapidly approaching and the immense scope of 5G seems almost certain to present significant opportunities for the RF and microwave industry. What is your perspective on this issue?
The rollout of 5G will certainly present significant opportunities for the RF and microwave industry as a whole. As we race toward 5G mobile networks by 2020, we also see the increasing collaboration between government and industry to bring more bandwidth and speed to users. This fall, the FCC called for industry input about flexible-use service rules for frequencies that fall squarely into the core competencies of SAGE Millimeter – the 28 to 30 GHz, 38 to 40 GHz, 54 to 71 GHz, 71 to 86 GHz, and 92 to 100 GHz bands. This emphasizes a regulatory trend toward frequency sharing, meaning the possible applications for millimeter-wave technology could be endless.
SAGE Millimeter is — at its core — a component and subassembly designer and manufacturer, so our products find their way into a multitude of product development, concept demonstration, lab test setup, industrial standard test equipment, and system applications. The fifth generation of cellular ensures that the ultimate users of at least a portion of our technology will be members of the general public. Therefore, no matter how we look at it, the goal of 5G service promises unprecedented opportunities for businesses like us that are manufacturing in the millimeter-wave frequencies.
MPD: The Internet of Things (IoT) might better be called the Wireless Internet of Things, as without RF and microwave technology, little could be accomplished. If your company is selling into this market, please provide your perspective on IoT and its prospects for the RF and microwave industry.
The “Internet of Things” impacts our industry and our company tremendously because it expands the reach of our technology. SAGE Millimeter’s product focus is mainly in the frequency range of 18 to 170 GHz, which positions it squarely in the 30 to 300 GHz millimeter-wave spectrum. Millimeter-wave technology is no longer considered “niche,” and increasingly, the general consumer is able to benefit from innovations in this part of the EM spectrum. Year after year, we see new gadgets and devices for the home and our lives that allow a level of connectivity we had never imagined even a decade ago. Research and development continue to be funded in the areas of Internet connectivity, high data rate communications, automotive/transportation safety and management systems, and commercial small satellites. Our industry is healthy and growing. SAGE Millimeter’s customer list continues to read as a Who’s Who of Internet service providers, telecommunication companies, and device and wireless network manufacturers. We are expecting that the industry will continue to experience exponential growth in the next period.
MPD: In your opinion, what are the RF and microwave technologies to watch in 2017?
I am only going to focus on the millimeter-wave band. The further development of Vsat ground stations and early development of 5G communication systems are pushing GaN technologies into the production stage. While GaN devices become increasingly mature and reliable, the system integration cost is continuously becoming more affordable. In the meantime, E-band products for “Last Mile” along with the V Band WiGig will continue to be the most promising sector in 2017 because of how it will liberate users. As we become inseparable from our smartphones, the demand for faster media streaming and delivery will push the industry to provide solutions. With this “Last Mile” technology, those users who previously had to rely upon wired connections can now experience the same quality of connectivity with much less infrastructure and cost. In addition, the call for autonomous vehicles, nano-satellites, and industrial sensors is continously developing. The technologies in these fields and frequency bands are becoming more mature, and end users and system integrators are pushing for more cost effectiveness, better reliability, and higher quality.
To accommodate these trends, industry leaders, government agencies, and legislators are also working together to make this transition a reality. I can see that millimeterwave technologies have finally reached the stage of maturity. I believe that millimeter-wave technologies are finding increasing opportunities in its traditional military and aerospace system applications and explosive growth opportunities in the new area of commercial applications. Elaborating on the latter, some examples include last mile communication, broadband Internet connection, passive and active imaging, automotive ACC radar, traffic control and management, small satellite, and test and measurement equipment. I am convinced that the year 2017 will be another critical and exciting year to watch as our technology and our manufacturing processes mature. As millimeter-wave hardware becomes more available, engineers will find even more specific applications for the technology and have more access to using them cost effectively in their designs.