David A. Hall, Head of Semiconductor Marketing, 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?
NI serves various aspects of the radar and EW market — from providing software-defined radio (SDR) technology used in the creation of early system prototypes to test and measurement instruments used in validation or production test. Today, increasing government investment in programs with a heavy emphasis electronic warfare and radar are making this market segment one of the fastest growing ones in the industry.
The evolution these technologies — and specifically within electronic warfare — is creating a wide range of new design and test challenges and requirements and business opportunities. For example, many of these systems are increasingly complex and adaptive/cognitive — where EW or radar systems use intense signal processing to react to the world around them in real-time. As a result, design and test engineers must use increasingly closed-loop & low latency techniques to validate both the electrical (RF) and functional (behavioral) characteristics of the system. For example, the increasing use of sensor fusion and sensor convergence in EW systems require components to handle multiple signal types over a wide operating range. In this scenario, the “tester” must be able to supply and test a wider range of DC measurements, high-speed digital interfaces, and non-linear RF measurements that give more accurate results than traditional pulsed S-parameters.
National Instruments is well-positioned to capture market share in the EW and radar market because of our software-centric, platform-based approach; enabling a software-defined (FPGA) based dynamic testing. Given this approach, engineers are able to design scalable test systems that are capable of performing cognitive testing for functional aspects of EW or non-linear parametric testing for new sensors used in modern radar and EW designs.
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?
The imminence of 5G technology in the consumer market is driving a flurry of technical innovation. 5G — both in sub-6 GHz deployments and in mmWave deployments — is driving new technical requirements for test and measurement equipment.
For example, in sub-6 GHz deployments, requirements to support up to 400 MHz of signal bandwidth drives requirements for even wider bandwidth of the instrumentation. With the increasing prevalence of technologies like digital-predistortion (DPD) to linearize the RF signal chain, instrumentation must often support up to 1 GHz of bandwidth in order to be capable of testing RFICs like power amplifiers, front-end modules, and transceivers.
In addition, mmWave 5G deployments are driving new test cases as well. At these frequencies, innovations in device architectures require engineers to develop new test capabilities like over-the-air (OTA) measurement and calibration. In addition, the 800 MHz bandwidth requirements of mmWave bands is also pushing the bandwidth requirements of test instrumentation.
5G will remain one of the most significant growth drivers of the RF instrumentation over the next several years — as engineers adapt to solve new test and measurement requirements. NI continues to work with some of leading consumer electronics, semiconductor, and infrastructure companies in this space — and expects 5G deployments to drive significant business opportunity in 2019.
MPD: Overall, how would you compare the health of the industry compared with years past?
As RF and wireless technology become designed into an ever-increasing assortment of commercial and non-commercial uses cases — the demand for RF test and measurement equipment remains strong. Obviously, the use of wireless within the consumer electronics industry is well-understood — but we see adoption of RF into nearly every corner of technical innovation. In addition to EW and 5G, modern autonomous vehicles rely on mmWave radar systems and smart-machines are driving innovation in low-power wireless standards. In fact, even advanced processing techniques like the trapped ion quantum computing system relies on RF signal sources to operate.
Although technical innovations in technologies like wideband analog-to-digital-converters and solid-state RF devices are constantly reducing the price point of modern RF instruments — the demand for RF measurement technology is growing at an even faster pace. As a result, the RF instrument market remains healthy overall and should continue to grow in the foreseeable future.
MPD: What RF and microwave technologies will be driving the industry in 2019?
One of the most exciting measurement frontiers where I expect to see significant process in 2019 is with over-the-air (OTA) measurements. For many 5G devices — where packaging technology dictates that the antenna is mounted directly on the transceiver or front-end module — OTA measurements are essential. From antenna fixturing to robotics to near-field/far-field system calibration the ability of the RF and wireless industry to deliver a comprehensive and cost-effective approach to mmWave devices test is fundamental to 5G commercialization in 2019.