Liam Devlin, CEO, Plextek RFI
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?
Government defense system orders generally take a while to flow down to designers of components and subsystems such as ourselves. Here in the UK, the defense industry already seems to be fairly buoyant, and we are currently involved in two significant ongoing programs with Tier 1 UK defense manufacturers, for which the budget was allocated some time ago. For one of these we are designing custom MMICs for an innovative radar system, and for the other we are developing PA technology for a phased array radar. The 2019 budget announcements, along with those just announced by the UK Government, are great news for the microwave industry and should flow down to benefit the microwave components market for some years to come.
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?
We have been actively engaged for the past three to four years in developing custom 5G mmWave MMIC technology for a variety of leading vendors of both cellular devices and infrastructure, and we are continuing to receive new inquiries for similar projects. We see that the rollout of mmWave 5G is currently dominated by fixed wireless broadband access (FWA) to the home, and we expect that the use of mmWave for genuinely mobile 5G use cases will take a little longer. This deployment of 5G for FWA is providing an opportunity for operators and vendors to explore the design and operational challenges of mmWave communications, and to help them define and optimize their products — and to sharpen manufacturing and test techniques — ready for the rollout of high-volume 5G mmWave mobile devices. The U.S. auction of the 24 GHz and 28 GHz bands will generate new work, and as the frequency standards are defined around the world, the OEMs will ultimately be looking for multi-band components to suit all markets, which will ensure future business for us.
MPD: Overall, how would you compare the health of the industry compared with years past?
The market continues to look in good health — there has been a lot of consolidation, such as the recent Cree takeover of part of Infineon to strengthen its RF offering, and this has largely been constructive and beneficial for the industry. The merger of RFMD and TriQuint has succeeded in creating a very strong brand in Qorvo.
The past few years have been consistently busy for us, with a mix of defense applications, mmWave 5G and satcoms applications all drawing on our skill base and providing a good source of revenue. We are seeing increasing demand in many sectors, including satcoms at Ku-band and Ka-band for broadband applications and also at lower frequencies to provide the infrastructure for global IoT applications.
MPD: What RF and microwave technologies will be driving the industry in 2019?
I don’t believe that there will be a single technology that will be dominant on all fronts, but some existing technologies will continue to gain ground. GaN has proven itself in the PA domain, and we will continue to see it make progress by increasing adoption in 3G and 4G base stations, and more mmWave GaN processes starting to become commercially available. CMOS will continue to make inroads into volume applications that need high levels of integration, but it will not supplant GaAs, which will also continue to grow, especially with its application for mmWave 5G. Some foundries, such as WIN, are developing processes with a mixture of e-mode, d-mode, and PIN diode technologies all available on the same chip. This will further improve the integration complexity available from GaAs devices.