by Richard Gibbs, CEO, Filtronic
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?
One of the biggest challenges we see the industry facing is supply chain disruption. This is partly being caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, but is also due to geopolitical and economic pressures. These include shortages in key components like semiconductor devices, and there is also a need to re-shore some manufacturing from the Asia Pacific region, to help make supply chains more resilient in the longer term and to enable our clients to meet their country-of-origin targets. Earlier this year, Filtronic successfully re-shored from China the manufacturing of a critical communications product for the public safety market to our Salisbury factory in the USA to improve equipment lead times, managing this complex transition smoothly and efficiently within the customer’s requirement for a six-month timeframe.
System complexities and emerging applications that require ubiquitous network coverage inevitably place a growing demand on scarce spectrum, and we see more applications starting to move upwards to mmWave bands to secure the bandwidth and connectivity they need. To secure the full benefit of 5G deployment, it will be incumbent on governments around the world to grant the local licenses necessary for the telecom operators to make use of the high frequency bands such as E-band and W-band. The crowded spectrum at traditional RF and microwave frequencies also means that interference mitigation filters—one of Filtronic’s longest-standing products—are now more necessary than ever to allow all these new systems to co-exist with legacy RF applications.
MPD: The commercial and defense satellite market is booming. Is your company reaping any revenue from this, or do you expect to?
Satellite communications is a key market for Filtronic, as our E-band transceivers, originally designed for high volume terrestrial telecom infrastructure requirements, are modified, packaged, and requalified for uplinks to LEO satellites and for inter-satellite links. They also find similar applications in High Altitude Platform Systems (HAPS); a year ago Filtronic joined the HAPS Alliance, which brings together world-leading telecommunications, technology, aviation, and aerospace companies to accelerate commercial adoption, advocate for standards, and help build a cooperative HAPS ecosystem. Ultimately these craft can bring better connectivity to areas not served by traditional telecoms infrastructure and thus begin to eliminate the “Digital Divide.”
Filtronic has been a major mmWave technology provider to the HAPS industry for several years, and with more broadband satellite operators now launching constellations, we see HAPS and LEOs starting to represent a growing proportion of our market.
MPD: 5G simply won’t meet its promises without millimeter-Wave deployment, which is obviously incredibly challenging. What are your thoughts on the best ways to realize this?
One of the big challenges for mmWave 5G deployment is providing cost effective backhaul solutions, since the shorter range at higher frequencies means that 5G mmWave small cells need to be deployed much more densely than those using sub-6 GHz cellular frequency bands, and backhauling each cell using fiber would be impracticable. High-capacity E-band, and eventually also W-band and D-band, backhaul links provide the ideal solution as they are more cost-effective and simpler to install than fiber. Filtronic has been manufacturing E-band transceivers for this application for over 10 years, and we are seeing growing demand for our current generation of products as 5G networks are deployed in ever increasing volume around the world.