by Doug Borck, President – RLC Electronics, 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?
Many of the world’s most effective weapons are likely to be unseen: electromagnetic waves that disrupt radios or jam global positioning systems. With political instability throughout the world, as well as new and existing threats to the United States, the defense market in 2017, specifically in the Electronic Warfare space, has a promising outlook. After working through sequestration for the past few years, the FY17 budget increase is a nice change of pace. DoD’s missions continue to rely more and more on cyber, C4ISR, radar (i.e. phased array), and EW systems to keep an edge on battlefields, with each application needing bandwidth and processing capability. We think that there will be continued focus on both replacement opportunities and upgrades to systems, as well as ongoing design efforts for new EW systems for the Navy, Army and Air Force. These projects are essentially a collection of software, sensors and devices with the ability to jam, detect and identify enemy interference that can be mounted to ground vehicles and drones and carried in manpacks. For RLC, this results in various component opportunities with system and subsystem providers, including filters, couplers, switches and detectors. RLC’s broad offering of component and integrated assembly solutions have been central to our military’s readiness for 57 years. This legacy and a constant emphasis on new technology has enabled RLC to meet the needs of the defense industry both today and tomorrow.
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?
Development in 5G wireless formats may drive research in developing lower cost components in the microwave and millimeter wave bands. These components are traditionally used by the military and satellite markets, but could be used to help drive down the costs of commercial systems. 5G will support Internet of Things from high-rate, low latency, to low-rate, high-latency applications, expanding ways to connect devices and the Internet. 5G will mean more bands and more radios in mobile devices, which will expand the market for component suppliers. Our perspective is “better get ready” and that’s what we’re doing. 5G is going to require that traditional approaches to give way to new concepts in signal generation, management and delivery. RLC has invested significantly in modeling software with an eye towards design efficiency and component performance. Aside from the 5G networks, manufacturers and users will need to develop test stations in order to test their product, offering another opportunity for component manufactures to get involved, and in an area that RLC already heavily supports.
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 adoption of wireless technologies will be vast, with many non-traditional companies requiring in-house RF expertise to provide in-house design capabilities or to liaison with external RF component manufacturers providing embedded antenna and radio solutions. We believe that growth for “connected things” will have a positive impact on the RF and microwave industry in the coming years, significantly increasing the demand for RF and microwave components and assemblies and bringing many opportunities to innovate on communication network technologies, as all information will connect back to the Cloud using RF and microwave frequencies. There will also be a need for many IoT use cases to have as much intelligence and processing as possible, which will place major importance on the communication networks needed to transport the intelligence from the sensor to the Cloud, and hence the technology and volume requirements for the RF and microwave industry will increase significantly.
MPD: In your opinion, what are the RF and microwave technologies to watch in 2017?
We’ve noticed the increase in achievable power levels using solid state technology, especially at lower frequencies for industrial applications. RLC’s filters and switches are already a staple for tube-driven applications and we’re planning for their integration into the growing number of SSPA platforms in 2017. Our focus here has been to create devices which provide excellent performance and integrate easily within such architecture. We continue to focus on surface mount and miniaturization efforts on all products, including delivering surface mount products with higher frequency capabilities. Customers desire smaller, lighter, less expensive parts with more functionality, and that is what we are looking to provide. We are also seeing an increase in higher power requirements, and as a result we have invested to ensure we can support true high power requirements with both coaxial and waveguide solutions. Some other areas that we expect to grow in 2017 include Low PIM applications such as surveillance efforts, based on the world we live in today.