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Home Labs are Making a Comeback in the Pandemic

Home Labs are Making a Comeback in the Pandemic
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by Brian Walker, Senior RF Design Engineer, Copper Mountain Technologies

Over the last few months, many of us have worked from home where possible. During this time, the tech industry has shown surprising resiliency. Design work has continued. From home, engineers have run electromagnetic simulations, designed circuits with schematic capture, and laid out printed circuit boards or integrated circuit designs. Meetings and design reviews have continued to occur over Zoom or some other virtual platform. Of course, at some point it is necessary to evaluate a real prototype in the lab, perhaps using equipment such as a Vector Network Analyzer from Copper Mountain Technologies. Could some testing be done at home as well? And what about that first 80 to 90%? Will working from home be the new normal?

Many of us are already bumping up against the limitations of our home broadband Internet. 50 to 75 MB/s can be a serious bottleneck when dealing with large data sets and can negatively impact productivity. If working from home does become the new normal, then 5G can’t come fast enough. Nowadays some speak of Internet access as a basic human right, but at least its importance to our society shouldn’t be underestimated. In addition to being important for established companies, high speed access to the Internet helps level the playing field for creative entrepreneurs and lowers barriers for participation in the global marketplace. This is always in the best economic interest of a country.  

The way tech business is done in the U.S. is constantly evolving. Robotics in manufacturing, Finite Element modeling simulation of electromagnetic fields for antenna and circuit design, MMICs which contain sophisticated RF circuits. All these things have changed the way we work. Perhaps working remotely will be the next change. We may need to learn new work habits. We’ll need to push ourselves to collaborate effectively with the rest of the team and not let the distance and separation isolate us. Software infrastructure for collaboration must be considered carefully or teamwork will devolve into chaos.  

But what about that last 10 to 20% of the project? With the latest generation of compact test equipment, it’s entirely feasible to set up a small measurement lab at home. A 43.5 GHz VNA can now be had in a 9.25” X 26.75” x 3.75” form factor, small enough to fit on a workbench and still leave room for a soldering iron and a scope. Maybe that last 10 to 20% can be done remotely along with the design phase. Will our business evolve into distributed engineering? Time will tell.

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