Sherry Hess, VP of Marketing, AWR Group, NI
MPD: The 2019 defense budget is chock full of EW, radar, and other programs with lots of RF and microwave content, so, if your company serves the defense market, what are your thoughts about how this will affect your business in the coming years?
While cybersecurity, hacking, and even our own proposed space force are headlining the news these days, the commonality they all have is the need for continued and expanded support of military programs like EW and radar. This is positive news for NI, as our NI AWR software portfolio enables engineers to design and physically realize highly integrated RF/microwave electronics that are key to protecting our sovereignty.
To be specific, an increase in operational radar-frequency range for broadband multi-functional RF systems is one major trend we are seeing in defense electronics. These systems provide not only radar but also EW capabilities such as electronic support (ES) and electronic attack (EA), as well as communications using data link functionality. A critical advantage of broadband systems is their resilience to effective jamming and interference by hostile radio signals. NI provides simulation and test solutions to address the challenges associated with developing these wideband, multifunctional systems.
Looking out in time, we anticipate continued development of these systems among defense contractors and commercial component manufacturers serving the aerospace and defense industry, as well as academic researchers developing novel semiconductor technologies and circuit/system architectures. Our support for this development at the system level includes an optional radar library offering radar signal generation, radar-specific target and propagation modeling, and radar signal-processing capabilities. The radar library is tailored to provide easy access to simulations such as radio-frequency interference (RFI), antenna arrays, and multipath channels.
MPD: 5G is already generating revenue for some sectors of the RF and microwave industry, and this should increase next year. How do you think the implementation of 5G will affect business in the coming year?
As we all know by now, the commercialization of 5G is driving new packaging techniques and sensing and filtering technologies along with higher levels of chip integration. New architectures supported by different RF semiconductor (CMOS, SiGe, GaAs, GaN, and more) and integration technologies will be needed to implement the enabling spectrum, modulation waveforms, and beamforming called for in the 5G New Radio (NR) air interface.
For RF front-end IC and module developers, this means new design challenges, test/verification requirements, and aggressive time-to-market pressures, which will impact all stages of product development from early design through final production test.
On the design software front for 5G, NI has partnered with Cadence to integrate the NI AWR Design Environment platform AXIEM 3D planar EM technology into the new Virtuoso RF product offering. This tool integration provides RF engineers with the ability to characterize on- and off-chip passive components and interconnects directly from within the Virtuoso platform to address the design, analysis, and verification of these soon-to-be RF modules and RFICs.
From the system-level design perspective, investigating the impact of NR candidate waveforms and carrier spacings on front-end component performance must also be addressed. With Visual System Simulator™ (VSS) software, simulating key RF PA performance metrics such ACPR and EVM operating under Rel. 15 proposed waveforms and carrier spacings can be achieved using pre-configured 5G (virtual) test benches. VSS software provides the measurement setup to apply accurate, standard-specific modulated RF signals to detailed, front-end components defined in the Microwave Office® circuit simulator and extract key performance indicators directly.
MPD: Overall, how would you compare the health of the industry compared with years past?
Our industry fluctuates high and low depending upon multiple factors. However, for the past few years, the industry has been in good health and we expect it to continue as wireless technology drives markets like 5G, IoT, and autonomous driver assist system (ADAS) applications.
These applications are compounding (pun intended) the competition between silicon and III-V semiconductor technologies for market share but are also creating new opportunities for innovation with the move up in frequency/spectrum to mm-Wave and the adoption of smart (MIMO/beam-steering) antennas. But with these opportunities also come challenges, since they require engineering resources across technology domains.
Think of non-RF companies now adding RF design capabilities to their product development teams to compete in the 5G, IoT, and automotive domains. Google®, Facebook®, GM®, and even John Deere® are growing their teams to account for RF as they develop connectivity solutions to exploit these market opportunities. And while I often speak and blog about the value of diversity in teams to empower success, it is clear that diversity of experiences and engineering expertise are also needed to ensure the future health and wealth of our industry, as wireless/RF technologies are here to stay.
MPD: What RF and microwave technologies will be driving the industry in 2019?
First and foremost will be 5G technologies driving our industry in 2019 and beyond. Yet speaking from the software design aspect of RF/microwave, it is the use of mm-Wave spectrum for 5G and automotive radar applications and the challenge of overcoming higher signal propagation losses combined with the benefit of smaller antenna sizes that provides opportunity to explore and exploit the use of beamforming and MIMO antenna technologies.
NI AWR software supports the development of phased arrays for MIMO and beamforming/beam-steering antennas with a design wizard that generates circuit, system, and EM-based hierarchal networks of antenna arrays and their feed structures. The wizard uses designer input that specifies the array configuration, element radiation (antenna) pattern, gain taper, and feed network details, enabling designers to rapidly perform “what if” scenarios during the earliest phases of antenna array design. Designers can determine the optimum array configuration, individual antenna design and spacing, and link budget for the active feed network, including PA gain, compression characteristics, impedance matching requirements, and more. From this, designers can immediately begin developing and integrating front-end components with well-defined design specification targets.