by Dave Durbin, Director of Engineering & VP, Planar Monolithics Industries, 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?
Rising demand for more complex RF and microwave components and systems is constantly broadening into new markets with applications from intelligent adaptive traffic control systems to ingenious medical imaging devices. Normally, the expectation is increased supplies with vendors using economies of scale to lower pricing. The reality, in the coming year, is that increased demand is going to strain the supply chain and increase price and lead time on everything from raw materials to systems.
The worldwide chip shortage may further encourage engineers to design for simplicity instead of including additional functionality. This may lead to a few surprising trends. For example, the automotive industry is showing signs of streamlining technology by dropping touchscreen displays or USB charging ports in new vehicles*.
These are advantageous conditions for our engineers to utilize readily available designs and make quick, efficient use of our manufacturing capabilities. At PMI, we thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to work closely with our customers, allowing us to actively listen to their needs and offer clever, resourceful RF and microwave hardware solutions. For all of the logistical and technical challenges to come, our engineers thrive on having their analytical skills tested with ever-shifting tradeoffs, and there will be no shortage of emerging innovations.
MPD: 5G simply won’t meet its promises without millimeterWave deployment, which is obviously incredibly challenging. What are your thoughts on the best ways to realize this?
An imaginative solution is to incorporate flocks of drones into a cellular network as transceivers. Cellular networks typically rely on cell sites: tall, unmovable towers transmitting signals at appropriate power levels to provide umbrella coverage between sites. 5G needs to take advantage of high frequency carrier signals simply to transfer more data more quickly. However, as the frequency increases, transmit distance decreases. A typical network would need many more cell sites to provide the same coverage with higher bandwidths. In the worst of weather conditions, precisely when users would prefer to use their cellular device, raising the transmit power and dropping to lower carrier frequencies would be necessary to keep service as uninterrupted as possible. Those undesirable solutions require overdesigning hardware and giving up transfer speed.
Enter the creative world of drone transceiver cellular networks. Imagine a flock of birds silently communicating with one another. When faced with a weak signal for any reason, agile drones don’t have to sit still; they can take immediate action to build a dynamic cellular grid. Instead of struggling to get service to a user on demand, drones could perch on top of a nearby building or settle into the middle of a long tunnel, boosting the signal and transmitting it onward. Cell sites could double as central points for drones needing upgrade, repair or recycling.
Research and development of solar and wind powered drone transceivers, building with biodegradable materials, and creating AI algorithms to size and shape cellular grids in real-time will be among the new opportunities for innovation. Creating standards to quickly increase efficiencies by being able to introduce new drone models and new competitors into the field will effortlessly propel this transformative network from 5G towards 6G and beyond.
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