Penny Cotner President and CEO Infinite Electronics, Inc.
MPD: As RF/microwave system complexities grow across many industries (from smart cars to smart cities), what are the biggest challenges RF component vendors and system integrators should expect to face in the coming year?
The most significant current challenge is the global supply shortage, including semiconductors and other electronic devices. This problem is likely to continue well into 2022, and its effects have been profound. The good news is that the federal government is increasing its focus on bringing as much semiconductor fabrication capability as possible back to the U.S. For example, the Department of Defense has initiated a program called Rapid Assured Microelectronics Prototypes – Commercial (RAMP-C) that aims to bolster the domestic semiconductor supply chain.
Most of the 13 Infinite brands have not been severely affected by this situation because Infinite’s availability business model ensures that products must always be available on the shelf, for immediate delivery. To achieve this, the company has developed a comprehensive means of supply chain monitoring and control that takes many aspects of deliverability into consideration.
MPD: The federal government has been pushing for rural broadband coverage for many years, yet not much has happened. What do you think it will take to actually make this happen?
As the pandemic has painfully demonstrated, millions of people in rural areas still remain without adequate broadband service or none at all. Clearly, throwing federal money at the problem is not the answer. Even with multiple incentives over many years, the wireless industry still has not shown much interest in serving these areas.
As a result, this market has been served since about 1999 almost exclusively in the U.S. by hundreds of mostly small companies called Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs). They continue to be a godsend for rural America today, and WISPs are increasing the performance of their networks and some now offer service comparable to cable. Infinite has been intimately involved with this market through our KP Performance Antennas brand which has been manufacturing antennas for the WISP market since 2008.
Alternatives are emerging as well. For example, the nationwide public safety broadband network being deployed by AT&T requires wireless infrastructure everywhere and can be used on a shared basis by the public as well. In addition, the goal of the SpaceX Starlink satellite constellation is to provide high-speed broadband anywhere on Earth, and once it becomes more reliable and affordable, it may ultimately provide a universal solution.