by Ben Reed, General Manager, Times Microwave Systems
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?
I certainly see a need for higher frequency solutions, especially with the advance of 5G technologies. As you go higher in frequency, the wavelengths are smaller, and the tolerances of parts must be a lot tighter than they are at 40 GHz and below.
Component tolerances of thousands of an inch can make a big difference at millimeterWave (mmWave) frequencies. High-volume components must be constructed with tighter tolerances while remaining practical and cost-sensitive, challenging many component suppliers. It’s a matter of making high-precision parts at good costs. At Times, we achieve this by integrating good manufacturing design technology and tight process controls for all the components we make.
Another challenge for RF component vendors will be the need for densification. The space between transmitters and receivers is becoming tighter, so we will see demand for smaller-volume infrastructure requirements. Times has worked to enable densification in 5G infrastructure equipment through innovation by introducing their TMQ4™ and TMQ5™ bundled cable assemblies. These harnesses combine industry-standard four-conductor MQ4 connectors and five-conductor MQ5 connectors with high-performance coaxial cables. They are available with Times’ industry-leading LMR® cables or low PIM options such as the TFT-5G and the SPO cables. The increased number of inputs serves the needs of the advanced antennas used in 5G networks. As antennas continue to shrink in size with increasing frequencies into the mmWave range, TMQ4 and TMQ5 cable assemblies ease the tasks of installing and maintaining a greater number of connections into smaller spaces.
We will also see more integration of components as single units. Rather than separate items, which require more space, transmitters and receivers will be integrated as much as possible to achieve miniaturization and densification.
MPD: The commercial and defense satellite market is booming. Is your company reaping any revenue from this, or do you expect to?
We see growth opportunities especially in the commercial and defense Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite markets. Many companies are launching large volumes of small satellites to orbit. Smaller satellites require smaller components.
As with new high-frequency millimeter-Wave component users, these companies are looking for cost-effective designs. So, the idea is to develop highly reliable, small solutions, particularly miniature, lightweight coax cables, at a large volume cost.
LEO satellites require coaxial cables that can fit into tight places without mechanical or electrical degradation, such as Times’ InstaBend™ high-performance microwave cable assemblies. These coaxial cable assemblies are extremely flexible and feature a new connector design that allows the cable to bend immediately upon exiting the rear of the connector. For LEO satellites covering a wide range of frequencies, InstaBend cable assemblies are available in small diameters, with top frequencies of 62 and 110 GHz and can be factory-terminated with a variety of connector options, including 2.92 mm connectors. InstaBend cable assemblies are ruggedized and a reliable interconnect solution in high-density applications where every inch matters.
Not every RF component supplier can meet all these higher-frequency manufacturing requirements and environmental demands for space applications. It takes time and a depth of expertise to develop products suitable for space requirements like outgassing, extreme temperatures, high vibration, radiation, and more.
We’ve been investing in our facilities and acquiring state-of-the-art equipment to make precision cables for miniature products for years. It’s not something that component suppliers can deliver on quickly. It can take years to properly build and certify a clean room where these components must be manufactured. Times is well prepared for the increase in the demand of these miniature products because we’ve been doing it for a long time.