by Greg Peters
VP & General Manager Aerospace/Defense/Government Solutions (ADGS)
Keysight Technologies, Inc.
MPD: Millimeter wave frequencies will be used for cellular communications for the first time in 5G. What challenges and opportunities does this present for the microwave industry?
The challenges of bringing millimeter wave to commercial wireless abound. This territory is traditionally the domain of the aerospace/defense industry, with much more tolerant time-scales and budgets. Therefore, the industry must make this domain of high integration, exotic materials, and very tight physical tolerances scalable and affordable for global commercial wireless communications. Additionally, new challenges the traditional industries did not include are a very wide-band complex modulation, as well as complex smart antenna schemes implemented in low-cost portable devices.
Like other revolutionary technologies, opportunities also abound. The industry is investing heavily to innovate on these challenges and the scale represents a huge opportunity. What the explosive growth of smartphones did to scale the use of GaAs and what the rapid rollout of LTE infrastructure did to scale the use of GaN are indications of what millimeter wave expansion will do for things like phased-array antennas, very high-speed baseband techniques, micro-machining, and even further, advances in materials science. This is not to mention the innovations which will be applied to core and transport networks for vastly increased data-rates.
And all of this requires updates to computer aided engineering, system simulations, measurement, validation, calibration, conformance, and optimization; this applies to everything from materials analysis to over-the-air, end-to-end testing. That is our opportunity and our challenge—we are well underway to ensure our customers have the tools they need to have confidence their designs are working as intended. That opportunity makes the millimeter wave challenges well worth addressing.
MPD: What RF and microwave technologies do you feel will have the greatest impact in our industry overall between now and 2020?
We expect a continuing evolution of RF and microwave block diagrams into the digital domain, providing improvements in performance, size, weight, power, and cost. High-speed data converters will be critical in this evolution, along with software-defined heterogeneous computing systems with real-time processing capability using FPGAs, GPUs, and multi-core CPUs.
As mainstream consumer applications like 5G communications and automotive radar move to mmWave frequencies to secure the needed bandwidths, continuing technological advances in high-performance and low-power semiconductor devices (for example SiGe and RF CMOS), low-cost packaging solutions, and system integration technologies will enable compact, cost-effective mmWave products.
Increasing data rates in wireless communications are also driving the need for higher data throughput between ICs in the system. Current SERDES technologies have focused on increasing data transfer speeds, but at the expense of higher dissipated power. As a result, large fractions of system power budgets must now be allocated to this function. Emerging optical technologies integrated with silicon ICs will provide the key to relieving this bottleneck in a power-efficient manner.
Finally, the use of mmWave frequencies also enables the integration of antenna arrays into semiconductor packages or directly on the ICs. This trend is spawning a new generation of completely “connectorless” devices. New over-the-air test methodologies, including calibration and measurement science, will ensure these devices deliver adequate performance and comply with industry standards.
It’s a very exciting time in the RF and microwave industry, and at Keysight, we’re thrilled to be driving these breakthroughs!
MPD: After years of hype and little to show for it, IoT networks are actually being deployed in a variety of applications. Do you believe IoT is a major opportunity for the RF and microwave industry? If so, why and if not, why not?
The Internet of Things has moved from an over-hyped possibility to practical reality in a relatively short amount of time. Billions of IoT devices surround us today, with hundreds more coming online each second. Forecasters predict over 20 billion devices will be deployed by 2020—this is phenomenal growth, and these devices will change our lives in ways we are only starting to understand.
Wireless connectivity is a key component of the end-to-end IoT solution. Removing the wires drops installation costs, untethers edge devices, and allows deployment in hard to reach locations. A mix of wireless technologies is being used to cover the full range of IoT use cases. Whether it’s short range protocols like Bluetooth, WiFi and Zigbee; or cellular connections via NB-IoT and CatM1; or long range topologies like SigFox and LoRa, the explosion in IoT devices has been fueled in large part by advances in RF and microwave communications.
As these technologies develop and become more complex—think MIMO, beamforming, 5G—operators, network equipment manufacturers, and device designers all face increased challenges to ensure the entire ecosystem operates reliably. This is especially important when the IoT devices are used in mission-critical applications such as automobiles, pacemakers, and process plants.
The opportunity clearly exists, but the mix of wireless technologies coupled with a wide range of reliability, performance, and cost expectations, make IoT a very challenging landscape for the RF and microwave industry. Keysight is uniquely positioned to offer complete end-to-end test solutions covering the entire product life cycle. We have the expertise to help designers optimize their products for RF performance, reliability, and interoperability ultimately get products to market faster.
MPD: We believe that the defense industry will retain its crucial importance to the RF and microwave industry regardless of overall DoD budget constraints. Do you agree with this statement? Either way, please explain your reasoning.
Absolutely. Technological advances in the A&D industry have been on the cutting edge, driving many of our commercial innovations. New companies from the commercial world, anywhere from new start-ups to the likes of Facebook or Google, are leveraging best practices from existing space and satellite companies, while incorporating their own cost savings and operational models to drive space exploration progress. Advancements in radar and sensor technologies originally designed for military applications are being leveraged in automotive.
New, advanced threats are emerging every day that require us to keep pace to keep the warfighter safe. These requirements will continue to drive the need to have the best performance in RF, uW, and more recently, mmWave. Threats are also expanding into more areas than just our military environment. The rise in popularity of hobby drones has also unfortunately resulted in the increased number of terrorist activities that involve them.
It’s crucial for companies to partner with suppliers who understand these dynamics and can provide solutions and services across the total lifecycle of their projects or programs, rather than just hardware products.