Tim Going, President, StratEdge Corporation
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?
In any given year, somewhere between 50 and 70% of StratEdge business is defense and space related, and we expect a significant increase in business for 2019 and 2020. It’s difficult to look much beyond 2020 because so much depends on the political situation and the new defense budgets that are adopted.
We see new product development for these segments focused on phased array antennas, guidance, communication, EW, and telemetry systems. There is increased demand for our high-frequency, high-reliability, hermetic packaging in advanced satellite technology for both commercial and defense applications. Electronics for defensive applications continue to gain in importance, particularly for early targeting notification of airborne and terrestrial vehicles.
Besides manufacturing the packages, StratEdge also provides assembly and test services for them. We recently moved into a new facility and have installed the latest high-performance wire bond and die attach systems in our class 1000 cleanroom. This capability improvement will allow us to keep pace with the increased volume and technical requirements for assembly of microwave modules for space and defense.
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?
Great question! This year there will be a big increase in 5G roll-out in the U.S. Although 5G is being adopted worldwide, I don’t think you’ll see a major increase in the international market until 2020 and beyond.
In 2019 we will probably see an increase in base station deployment for power GaN devices. The package is critical to dissipate the heat and ensure proper functioning of these high-reliability, high-performance semiconductors. StratEdge has developed new substrates and perfected our proprietary eutectic die attach technology to get the best possible power output for a GaN device, and one that will result in lower junction temperatures and increased device reliability.
The telecom industry is a major user of hi-rel, hi-power devices because of the nature of infrastructure deployment. As a company whose packages and assembly services are geared towards the infrastructure part of the business and the infrastructure component supplier, we are looking forward to a robust year.
MPD: Overall, how would you compare the health of the industry compared with years past?
The industry appears to be at an apex right now, and in some regards, it concerns me. It’s eerily reminiscent of 1999 and 2000 in terms of growth. Although people are exuberant about the growth, I’m only cautiously optimistic. There are real concerns about the long-term health of the world economy in light of the pending full-scale trade war between the U.S. and China. If the trade situation is not permanently addressed in the next 12 months, I believe we run a significant risk of a worldwide recession in 2020.
It’s also important that we don’t overbuild the 5G infrastructure and expand available bandwidth significantly beyond the demands of current consumer requirements. 5G will only be successful if it increases bandwidth and speed capabilities without a significant unit cost increase to the consumer. Unless we continue to drive down individual component costs until the price point meets the demands of the consumer, it won’t be successfully implemented.
Initially, 5G will be geared towards high-speed Internet access for business and homes, rather than mass consumer cell phone use. Therefore, deployment in 2019 will be limited to select U.S. cities with major infrastructure deployment rather than to support millions of phone users. 2020 will begin to address the individual phone user’s needs.
MPD: What RF and microwave technologies will be driving the industry in 2019?
The main drivers are the ones we’ve discussed above, plus further implementation of GaN for power amplifiers to be used across a wide variety of industries. These include defense, space, telecom, communications, and anything else that needs a power amplifier or power management system, e.g. electric cars. GaN will become the technology of choice for these applications as it becomes more cost effective. There will be continued refinement, cost reduction, and development of phased array technology for satellite communications, defense electronics, and maybe eventually for automotive electronics. On the longer horizon, we’ll begin to see the development of super-high efficiency chip technology involving diamond semiconductors and semiconductors on diamond coated substrates.
Although there is cautious optimism for beyond 2019, we run the risk, with the current trade uncertainties worldwide, of putting a significant damper on development beyond next year.