Joel Levine, President and CEO, RFMW, Ltd.
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?
5G challenges begin with cost effectiveness. It makes use of technologies originally used for defense in the millimeter wave bands but also massive MIMO and beamforming technologies to fulfill the promise of universal connectivity. The development of communication systems at mmWave frequencies, such as point-to-point radios, is ongoing, but with small production quantities relative to consumer applications. Lower quantities mean that the limited number of mmWave device suppliers have necessarily kept their product prices high. Companies designing mmWave, 5G systems will need to deal with these cost considerations as they adapt and improve their products for 5G applications. Fortunately, there’s precedence for price reduction at increased volumes. Providing semiconductor products for 3G and 4G as well as mmWave solutions, Qorvo, with heritage in both defense and telecom, is well versed in the main technologies 5G will be dependent upon. Qorvo will be in a prime position to support customers as they develop high volume, 5G components.
Passive devices, such as filters, will be another challenging area as designers look for small footprint, “drop in” products versus designing on-board filtering. High isolation filters at mmWave frequencies are typically mechanical in nature: cavity filters or waveguide filters. Both are large and expensive. Newer designs using printed, surface mount technologies show promise in reducing footprint size and therefore cost. Sangshin Elecom has developed Substrate Integrated Filters (SIF) at 28 and 39 GHz showing exceptional attenuation characteristics.
The industry’s opportunity arises from the challenge; as these products begin to see production volumes equivalent to today’s small cell infrastructure, the cost, size and performance of all mmWave devices will improve.
MPD: What RF and microwave technologies do you feel will have the greatest impact in our industry overall between now and 2020?
Technological advances in filtering will have a significant impact. Often overlooked at initial design stages, the ability to filter unwanted signals has a huge impact on network performance. Providing low-cost, surface mount filters, duplexers and diplexers will be a determining advantage supporting the growth of 5G mmWave systems. Semiconductor mmWave products and processes such as GaAs, GaN and Si CMOS are well established technologies, so beyond miniaturization through integration and the price drop associated with high volume, those are known entities. mmWave filter technology continues to advance and RFMW distributes for leading edge filter manufacturers developing component solutions for both existing and proposed mmWave systems.
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.
Defense spending will continue as threats continue from state sponsored terrorist organizations and rogue regimes throughout the world. A primary role of government is the protection of its citizens; that cannot go away. As the battlefield becomes “smarter” in the form of situational awareness, communications and smart weapons, RF and microwave technology will need to advance for both offensive and defensive systems. Maintaining a technological edge against our foes, be they real or in the virtual world of cyber warfare, will drive the development of higher performing devices and systems.