by Bryan Goldstein, President, Analog Devices Federal, Vice President, Aerospace and Defense Group, Analog Devices, Analog Devices
MPD: Please describe what you consider to be your company’s most significant technological achievements in 2023.
Analog Devices supports complete solutions from sensor to insights for a broad range of strategic markets and applications. Our sensors measure real world quantities. The signals are conditioned and digitized before being processed at the edge into data that is actionable. For example, in the automotive sector, we provide a wireless battery management system for hybrid and electric vehicles that constantly monitors each battery cell and aggregates and reports the overall health of the system through a wireless link. For the telecom space, we offer a complete reference design for ORAN 5G 7.2-Split Radio Unit (RU) that includes an 8R-8T RF front-end, low PHY digital processing and eCIPRI interface to the rest of the network.
This year, we announced the Apollo MxFE (Mixed-signal Front-End) that consists of multiple high-speed DACs and ADCs with the most comprehensive DSP back-end in the industry. Apollo is targeted at aerospace and defense, test and measurement and 6G Infrastructure and is expected to become the anchor around which next generation digital radar and electronic surveillance and countermeasure systems will be developed as it supports multichannel sensors, high sample rates and dynamic range, flexible and reconfigurable DSP functionality that surpasses any FPGA capability and underlying security features with root of trust.
The edge processing within Apollo represents the most complex digital engine ADI has ever delivered to the market and addresses customers’ demand for better size, weight, and power. Complementing Apollo are clocking solutions that ensure multi-channel synchronization and a family of RF front ends that seamlessly process RF and microwave signals for digitization. It is the ability to bring the most advanced technologies in the industry from RF to digitizers to high performance edge DSP together with systems expertise that differentiates ADI in the strategic applications in which we participate.
MPD: Has EDA software improved in recent years, and if so, how is it helping your company meet its goals?
Yes, EDA tools and methods have improved tremendously in recent years for the development of microwave products both for SoCs component-level ICs. We can see advancements in the following three areas. For circuit simulation and design verification we believe simulation of the entire RF signal chain is needed to de-risk the design and development of RF and microwave products. We need to analyze critical system-level metrics like linearity and noise for several circuit blocks together very quickly, as opposed to simulating them individually and then stitching and analyzing the results.
In addition, IC layout effects play a big role on the circuit performance for high-speed designs in small geometry processes. Simulation tools have advanced to handle many nodes and many devices very efficiently. Similarly, for functional verification of silicon systems at the edge with complex software stacks, we need to augment traditional simulation-based techniques with fast and efficient behavioral modeling, hardware emulation and virtual prototyping. EDA solution innovations in these areas enable us to deliver first-pass sampleable products.
For electromagnetic modeling and analysis, as the frequency of operation goes higher, it is important to accurately model on-chip structures like spiral inductors, transformers, baluns, and transmission lines as well as off-chip structures like package, board, and connectors. In recent years, electromagnetic field solvers made tremendous improvements in capacity and runtime by enabling massive parallelism. As a result, we can model more complicated structures faster and thus speeding up the iteration and optimization cycles. The ability to achieve heterogeneous system integration, and system-in-package (SiP) technologies allow us to integrate multiple ICs for system realization with challenging requirements for electrical, thermal, and mechanical integrity. Progress in EDA tools for SiP and module developments has enabled us with co-design methods for IC, package, and board. This is the foundation for the future development of 3DICs and chiplets.
These improvements in EDA software are critical for high-performance product development and to reduce time-to-market. As an example, our latest Apollo MXFE product contains several digital cores, data converters, and other high-performance analog circuitry. To verify the full functionality of such a large SoC before manufacturing in a deep-sub-micron process, we rely on best-in-class EDA software tools and methods for block-level to chip-top verification, performance and functional checks, hardware, and software co-design etc. High capacity and highly parallel simulators, behavioral modeling methods, and emulation hardware-based verification are some of the specific advancements in EDA space that enabled us to develop such complicated products.
MPD: Have millimeter-wave devices advanced to the point where they can affordably be deployed for 5G?
Millimeter-wave 5G deployments are becoming more cost effective thanks to advancements at both the IC and system design level, coupled with steady progress under the 3GPP standards definition framework bringing more capability at the application layer. At the IC level, simultaneous improvements in linear output power and power dissipation in beamformer ICs have greatly improved the efficiency of commercial phased arrays that form an integral part of millimeter-wave 5G systems. These developments have enabled smaller and lighter arrays delivering higher EIRP in dual-polarized systems without the need for a separate transmit and receive array, which was not possible in older systems due to high switch loss in arrays utilizing a bulk CMOS process. In parallel, higher-integration devices combining multi-channel frequency conversion, high-channel-count beamforming, and LO generation where applicable, have drastically reduced the IC count.
This enables simplified line-ups with greatly reduced deployment costs, especially for arrays with greater than 60 dBm EIRP that require larger arrays versus small cells. At the system level, vendors able to offer a holistic design approach at the final product level have been working closely with the customers to optimize millimeter-wave 5G designs from the ground up, delivering more competitive radios to the market. The key skillsets include in-house high frequency packaging, EM optimization, expertise in high-volume and low-cost PCB manufacturing techniques in addition to a streamlined supply chain made possible by the expanding IC portfolio depth and breadth in the industry.
Customizable millimeter-wave 5G IP platforms from IC vendors underpin flexible RU solutions released to the market in the recent years. These solutions provide cost benefits through design re-use to operators in divergent use cases such as macro, small cell, private wireless and addressing mobile as well as fixed use cases. Finally, the progress in releases within 3GPP cultivates a more robust ecosystem supporting use cases beyond cellular infrastructure which brings the underlying technology to the mainstream and reduces adoption costs as a result.
MPD: What does the Department of Defense need most from the microwave industry right now?
The emergence of conflicts and the sophistication of threats as well as the current geopolitical risks are leading the entire defense industry to rethink the new battlefield and quickly identify proven partners that can speed the U.S. forward as the leader in the technology race. ADI has over 55 years of delivering high performance, cost competitive technology to customers. The themes from DoD that we see most prevalent for microwave industry needs are lower SWAP-C, faster development times, and security of supply.
ADI is responding to these needs in a variety of ways; first, by having the most extensive product line in the “RF to bits” signal chain, ADI is innovating to integrate that entire signal chain together which will result in the DoD getting lower SWAP-C hardware for radar, electronic surveillance and countermeasures, communications, and multi-function applications. ADI is using technologies such as SiP and heterogeneous integration to achieve these goals. This hardware integration of the whole RF to bits signal chain will also enable faster development times for our defense industrial base partners in creating system solutions for DoD.
ADI envisions the use of chiplet technology to further aid in faster development times and lower SWAP-C. ADI also brings commercial scale to the microwave industry and is developing commercial scale modules and subsystems which integrate multiple technologies and functions to lower costs and speed development for our DOD customers. DoD has made it clear that they need to leverage COTS and MOTS technologies better and more quickly given the current economic and geopolitical risks. ADI is also investing heavily in the security of the supply arena and is currently investing in a large expansion of our U.S. module manufacturing facility in Chelmsford, MA, bringing more IC production to the USA, leveraging our Oregon fab, and dual sourcing fabrication where possible.
MPD: An increasing number of applications rely on RF and microwave technology. What application stands out as the most likely to significantly contribute to the industry by the end of the decade?
The RF and microwave Industry is witnessing a historic moment for RF and microwave electronics in phased array applications. The integration of large sections of the signal chain into complete ICs has enabled phased arrays to leap from analog to digital beamforming phased arrays. The current transition in progress is the migration toward every element digital beamforming phased arrays. Hybrid architectures consisting of analog beamformed subarrays, and receivers and ADCs behind every subarray, allow digital beamforming to form many beams within the subarray pattern.
As large semiconductor investments push rapid advancement in mixed signal data converter bandwidth and power efficiency, every-element wideband digital beamforming is becoming more practical. This trend will gather pace as investments in semiconductor technology (i.e., silicon, gallium nitride and gallium arsenide processes), integration and digital processing capabilities, make full elemental digital beamforming at higher frequencies more realizable, efficient, and scalable across large arrays. The culmination of this progress is resulting in completely software defined antennas that are the enabler for multi-mission system objectives. Digital phased arrays can be reconfigured rapidly, beams can be controlled with better accuracy versus traditional analog phased arrays, multiple beams can be created in any angular direction within the radiating element pattern, frequency diversity, and polarization diversity can also be provided across beams created.
The increased complexity of advanced phased arrays required for next-generation platforms combined with reduced development time objectives creates the need for a mechanism to rapidly validate the electronics prior to antenna integration. To aid this need, ADI has created a series of multi-channel development platforms. These platforms include multiple data converters, RF signal chains, clocking, power distribution, and software control, allowing users to validate multi-channel performance and develop application software in parallel with packaging the electronics into a final form factor solution.