Avtar Virdee, Director, Microwave Technology 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?
The main challenges I foresee will be in creating practical designs for both mobile devices and network infrastructure that will provide repeatable performance, and can be manufactured to meet the required budget. In particular, the mmWave front ends will be based on MMIC technology, and that needs to be made very cost effective. If this is done effectively, there will be opportunities for mmWave vendors to scale up to high volume manufacture of assemblies for large scale deployment, which can also potentially benefit other applications in these frequency bands.
MPD: What RF and microwave technologies do you feel will have the greatest impact in our industry overall between now and 2020?
GaAs device demand is likely to drop significantly, as silicon-on-insulator (SOI) and GaN displace it in major markets. GaN devices are dropping in price, and will soon equal the cost of mainstream LDMOS and then start penetrating commercial applications in volume.
It appears that the FAA will finally release rules on drones for commercial use, and the industry will have to push back as they will be too restrictive for most commercial applications.
Even though the Chinese markets are struggling at the moment, they look set to acquire a record number of semiconductor companies around the world, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on acquisitions.
Test and measurement companies will increase their focus on complete systems that integrate software and hardware seamlessly into a turnkey product, primarily based around PXI modules.
There will be continued success for commercial space companies, and we will see that market accelerating.
Autonomous vehicles, and also vehicle-to-vehicle communications, will become reality much faster than anticipated, and will start to be a major focus for RF companies. I would not be surprised to see a major automotive manufacturer release a fully autonomous car into production before the end of the year.
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?
Yes, IoT is definitely a major opportunity because it promises to generate new products and markets to exploit. The IoT market will initially focus mostly on industrial and medical applications, as with current technology the low return on investment for other applications will make them less attractive.
5G system research may continue to struggle with how to incorporate both high capacity, low latency systems with low data rate, low cost IoT needs, although network slicing is promising a solution. It is likely there are some companies focusing on proprietary low power IoT networks who may leave the market as other open standards begin to take hold.
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.
One only needs to look at the history to see the truth of this: we have seen many commercial ventures come and go, but the one industry sector that has been steadfast has been the defense market. It will always exist as long as there are conflicts to resolve in the world.
The defense industry also has a fine record of stimulating and supporting the development of state-of-the-art RF and microwave components and systems.