by Liam Devlin, CEO, PRFI
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 very active area for us. PRFI is currently developing Ka-band GaN PA solutions for ground-based access equipment for broadband SATCOM systems. This is potentially a very high-volume market and requires a solution that is available in an SMT package suitable for low-cost mass production and assembly. We’re also working with clients to develop high linearity, broadband PA components for phased array satellite communications systems operating at lower RF frequencies. These will be part of the satellite payload—each array will incorporate many channels and there will be a constellation of satellites, so it is still a high volume application requiring careful consideration of unit cost as well as performance.
We’ve also recently been active in developing hardware for CubeSats, and some PRFI-designed equipment is currently deployed in space. These miniature satellites tend to have lower volume requirements. The work we’ve undertaken has included both microwave power generation modules for innovative propulsion systems and mmWave PA modules, at around 40 GHz, for comms links.
Looking to the future, we have a number of other ongoing enquiries for components at Ka-band and above, which are all intended for broadband satellite communications systems. Satellite systems are certainly a booming market for PRFI at the moment.
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?
In terms of mobile connectivity, mmWave 5G currently carries very little of the traffic. Even phones equipped with mmWave 5G make use of it less than 1% of the time, according to Opensignal1. I see one of the big challenges to the wider adoption of mmWave 5G being in-building coverage. Obtaining good indoor reception for high data-rate mmWave signals from an outdoor base station is a real challenge. I believe that the way to address this issue is to continue the rollout of mmWave 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) direct to the home and to increase the deployment of mmWave 5G inside large buildings such as train stations and shopping malls.
With FWA, the mmWave radio is located outside the premises and the users can access the broadband capacity of the 5G cellular network from inside the home—the simplest way to do this is via existing WiFi links, perhaps upgrading to WiFi 6 when this is available. The rollout of FWA using mmWave 5G is growing, with leading player Verizon1 announcing earlier this year that it had reached 150,000 subscribers. Developing the 5G FWA infrastructure will increase component volumes, reduce cost and allow the network operators to develop experience with mmWave subscriber links.
Ultimately, I anticipate that mobile mmWave devices will switch seamlessly from the mmWave cellular network to an indoor network as the user enters a building, enabling the user’s broadband link to continue without interruption.