Joel Conover, Senior Director, Industry Solutions and Digital Marketing, Keysight Technologies, Inc.
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?
Defense spending is certainly on a growth trajectory for the next several years, not only in the U.S. but also worldwide. At Keysight, we have anticipated this and have made investments to address the application spaces of EW and Information Warfare as well as military communications. With these new advanced simulation and analysis tools, Keysight helps to enable these sophisticated future systems.
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?
2018 was an important year for the 5G industry. The completion of the 5G NR Release-15 standalone and non-standalone specifications, cleared the way for designers to move forward with technology and equipment designs throughout the ecosystem. The 5G standard is also the most complex and robust ever produced. It provides unprecedented flexibility with respect to which frequencies can be used, overall channel width, and how those frequencies can be aggregated. This flexibility means that designers across the ecosystem can get started today, and expand to include more functionality and frequency band support in the future. This is good news for the industry overall — it provides opportunities for continuous innovation, while enabling designers to monetize first generation solutions more quickly.
With this in mind, I expect 2019 to be a year of “firsts,” starting now. We will see the first commercial 5G networks for both fixed and mobile applications. We will see network providers investing in the core infrastructure necessary to support 10x bandwidth and 100x network throughput. This includes investments in core physical infrastructure — fiber optics, towers, and networking equipment. It also includes investments in the next generation of cellular technologies to support 5G communications. As with the transition to 4G, this will be managed geographically over a period of time. Providers are eager to meet rising consumer demand for bandwidth and reduce cost per bit served. Dense urban environments with more subscribers will be the first to benefit from advanced cellular “4.9G” and “5G” implementations. Most importantly, 5G isn’t a cut-over — 4G and 5G networks will co-exist for many years. Regardless of the standard deployed, operators will need to invest in core infrastructure to prepare for the capabilities and demand that 5G will deliver.
MPD: Overall, how would you compare the health of the industry compared with years past?
If you look just at 5G and its adjacent markets, you get an immediate idea of the amazing opportunities across so many sectors. In short, the industry is more healthy and vibrant than ever. It is a fantastic time to be in the RF and microwave industry. Consider all the applications: mobile cellular communications to automotive advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), cellular V2X (Vehicle-to-everything) communications and the move towards self-driving vehicles, IoT applications that span the gamut from urban environmental monitoring to farm/livestock management, to personal electronics, to smart home. Our world is exploding with new devices that are changing how we live, how we do business, and what we know about the world around us. There is innovation at every corner, and much of it is driven by wireless communications. Another exciting shift is the commercial use of millimeterWave RADAR and LIDAR in the smart vehicle segment. From self-driving cars and ADAS, to commercial drones and aircraft — we’ve already seen a substantial shift in the usage and commercial affordability of these technologies. That will only increase as suppliers continue to innovate and drive the state-of-the-art in these systems.
MPD: What RF and microwave technologies will be driving the industry in 2019?
The big design challenge in 2019 will be developing commercial 5G solutions that operate across the RF and millimeterWave spectrum. The 5G standard offers so many areas for development and innovation. From new RAN architectures that will help extend the range and coverage of mobile communications in the millimeterWave spectrum, to new radio designs that implement beamforming to overcome path loss and increase signal-to-noise for mobile devices, to new mobile devices that harness all the new bandwidth and possibilities outlined in the 5G standard. Here, we will see a lot of focus and interest throughout the design and test lifecycle.
We are also at a unique moment in history. For the first time, we have a new cellular technology that is built for many different use cases, and many different industries actively investing in it simultaneously. In automotive, for example, cars are becoming mobile data platforms. Far beyond the infotainment wave that came in the last decade, the next generation of automobiles will be designed with connectedness as a requirement. This is critical to enabling ADAS and self-driving vehicles. 5G is one technology that will enable this, but there are many others that will need to work in concert with 5G.
Then there are high-density, low bandwidth applications. Imagine outfitting 25,000 head of cattle on a ranch, each with a sensor that monitors animal health and vitals. Today, the only environment even remotely like this is a sports stadium. But in the near future, these types of densities will be commonplace.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, mmWave is going mainstream for many applications. RADAR and LIDAR are already pervasive in vehicles and even consumer drones. The rate at which this technology has become commercial is unprecedented, and we expect that that pace of innovation and commercialization will only increase going forward.
In summary – it is an amazing time to be in the world of RF and microwave – as the technologies move from specialized to commercial mainstream applications – the opportunities are boundless.