by Scott Blanchard, Co-Founder, President – Vaunix
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?
While the defense industry can be a very cyclical and unpredictable market—with project funding changes based on various budget approvals and now new leadership in the Oval Office—our business at Vaunix is fortunately less susceptible than most due to our relatively low cost of the average order of Lab Brick products. The electronic warfare projects in which we are involved consider our signal generators as a critical and inexpensive element that can simply be purchased with a credit card. So while big programs and major system builds ebb and fly, our design/test customers are allowed the freedom to just keep staying ahead.
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 evolution of cellular technology will, without a doubt, create opportunities for the RF and microwave industry as it has in the past, and will hopefully do, for many years to come. According to a report from Ericsson, there will be as many as 550 million users of 5G technology by the year 2022. This adoption rate will drive the entire industry from research, design, development, production, and test. With 550 million devices, testing will soon be the critical item for many companies.
The industry already has a thirst for custom handover test platforms with the ability to control phase and attenuation, while switching between paths. With cost, size, and flexibility driving decisions, the Vaunix products have proven to be a perfect fit. Due to customer requests, we have developed a 4 channel digital attenuator with 120 dB of fading range in 0.1 dB increments. With products like this, combined with phase shifters and RF switches, we are well positioned to support custom handover challenges like multipath fading.
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 IoT is on the verge of being all encompassing. It seems that all of the products we buy are connected to the Internet. It is a terrific boon for our industry as the vast majority of IoT devices and equipment are wirelessly connected. As connectivity increases, so does the need for technology such as 5G and 802.11ac with pressure to push data rates even higher. However, the increased number of wireless device, and the subsequent increase in wireless technology complexity, is placing a burden on testing and qualification facilities. Especially considering the pace at which wireless technology is evolving. Hence, adaptable test and measurement devices that can be scaled at relatively low costs may be an enabling factor in mitigating a potential bottleneck in manufacturing and qualification testing.
MPD: In your opinion, what are the RF and microwave technologies to watch in 2017?
I would have to concur with our marketing partner, David Strand of Strand Marketing. We communicated ahead of this article recently and agreed millimeter-wave subsystems and the high-frequency testing needed for the devices and 5G backhaul equipment will be a hot segment. And while military techniques, such as phased array systems, will be explored in next-gen 5G wireless networks, we think new commercial opportunities will spring from some fairly new antenna techniques, including multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) antennas. These antenna solutions, including 802.11ac, provide sound communications with lower-level signals; they can also enable reliable communications in an electromagnetic (EM) environment. This will be key as possible radio interference from humans and nonhumans attempting to connect to the Internet explodes even further.
Another key development for us programmable guys will be USB 3.1. This new rev. comes with a boost in data transfer bandwidth of up to 10 gigabits per second. That will create some major efficiencies for our customers looking to maintain the flexibility of using portable devices while improving performance of their next–generation test stands.