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Industry News

Overview of the European Microwave Conference

Sector overview by Stepan Lucyszyn, EuMC 2011 Conference Chair

September 26, 2011
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The US and Asia are recognised for directing large budgets to independent world-leading groups within both the industrial and academic sectors, for R&D activities in areas of strategic importance, such as health care and defence. In contrast, European Union initiatives put a stronger emphasis on distributing funding to a collaborative blend of industry, national research laboratories and university partners located across Europe; at a time when individual government funding agency budgets are being reduced.

A good example of this can be seen in the area of RF microelectromechanical systems (RF MEMS). In the early days, DARPA injected many tens of millions of dollars into RF MEMS technologies, enabling the US to take the early lead. As the Editor of the new Eurocentric book titled, Advanced RF MEMS, a deliverable from AMICOM (a European Union 'Network of Excellence', funded under its FP7 programme), I believe that RF MEMS has now matured enough to be taken seriously; there are now many solutions to the issues of packaging and reliability that thwarted this technology in the past. Also, with attention now turning to bringing down manufacturing costs there will soon be an accelerating migration of applications that embrace this new technology.

The reason for this is that the higher performance advantages, from new RF MEMS-based architectures, will compete more favourably in terms of overall cost with the more traditional solid-state solutions. To this end, Europe is currently taking a leading role within world-class research institutes that include IMEC (Belgium), FhG-ISiT and EPCOS AG (Germany), VTT (Finland), CEA-LETI and CNRS-LAAS (France).

In security and defence, Europe has historically been and currently still is in a strong position. For example, across Europe and within Israel, there is growing activity in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technologies for policing, border control and military applications. Within the UK, ThruVision Systems has marketed what is claimed to be the world's first commercial stand-off passive imaging system.

Operating at 250 GHz, it is capable of detecting metals, plastic, liquids, gels, ceramics and narcotics concealed beneath a person's clothing. The UK also has a strong reputation for submillimetre-wave satellite remote sensing, with Astrium Ltd. In addition, TeraView Ltd. is one of the world's leading suppliers of commercial equipment for close-in active imaging and spectroscopy at THz frequencies.

It has been suggested that the global THz market will be $400 M by 2017. BCC Research predicts that this market will be $521 M by 2018. According to the Thintri Inc. market study for 2010, the current annual sales for THz equipment amounts to only $25 M worldwide, with a growth of 10 to 15 percent in 2010, but a predicted growth of 50 to 80 percent by 2015.

Within the security sector, the THz market is likely to exceed $300 M worldwide by 2020. Within the manufacturing/process control sector, material inspection remains the most promising market opportunity for THz technology, with a predicted forecast of $500 M worldwide by 2020.

For the domestic mobile phone market, carriers are now advertising 4G networks with faster download speeds. The UK is one of the global leaders for base station filters, with companies such as Radio Design and Filtronic at the forefront in this area. Also, in the commercial sector, 2010 saw more than 1 million microwave point-to-point radios being sold for backhaul applications or extending networks wirelessly; with 75 percent of these having 1 Gbit/s true data throughput. For multi-gigabit transmission, the 60 and 70/80 GHz bands remain the growth market segment.

Indeed, for both the domestic and commercial markets, a number of working groups have published standardizing specifications for the unlicensed 60 GHz band, including the following: ECMA-387 for high data rate wireless personal area networks (WPAN); IEEE 802.15.3c representing a millimetre-wave extension to the IEEE 802.15.3 WPAN standard; and WirelessHD for existing, commercially available, wireless video area networks (WVAN) based on IEEE 802.15.3c. More recently, the Wireless Gigabit (WiGig) Alliance has been working with the IEEE 802.11ad group to extend the IEEE 802.11 WLAN specification to the 60 GHz band, for publication next year.

Emerging enabling technologies, such as graphene, RF MEMS and THz are redirecting engineers and scientists from areas including material science, mechanical engineering and applied sciences, respectively, into the RF and microwave sectors. In addition, metamaterials appear to have stolen the limelight (metaphorically, or should that be metaphysically speaking?). From Star Trek's Romulan War Bird Cloaking Device to Harry Potter's Invisibility Cloak, even school children are being drawn into technologies that may one day turn fiction into fact. In conjunction with exciting new applications ranging from GPS tracking to intelligent transportation systems to pervasive wireless sensor networks, such examples are helping to inspire and create the next generation of RF and microwave engineers.

FP7 Projects

The aim of the €4.7 M Beyond Next Generation (BuNGee) project is to achieve a tenfold increase in mobile broadband infrastructure capacity. Planned to continue through June 2012, it will draw upon collaboration among consortium members comprising European service providers, technology equipment vendors, universities and research organisations. The consortium's objective will be to increase the overall mobile network infrastructure capacity density to beyond what is promised by current technologies, targeting the challenging goal of 1 Gbit/s per square kilometre. The project will identify network deployment strategies especially suited for dense urban environments where the demand for wireless broadband access is highest.

Also concerned with wireless mobile networks is the Energy Aware Radio and Network Technologies (EARTH) project that will adopt an approach that considers the energy efficiency of mobile networks at a comprehensive system level rather than focusing on discrete network elements. The consortium members will research approaches to allow for unprecedented energy savings in the area of wireless networks, their components and its radio interfaces. Based on this, EARTH will develop a new generation of energy-efficient network equipment and components, craft energy-oriented deployment strategies, and conceive energy-aware network management solutions.

In the automotive arena, the DRIVE C2X Project, with a total budget of €19 M, aims to create the transport system of the future, in which cars communicate with each other, receive real-time information about traffic, and also gather and forward information. The three-year project, which commenced in January 2011, follows on the work of the PRE-DRIVE C2X Project that was completed in June 2010.

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