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Industry News

Microwaves in Europe: Current Trends and Future Prospects

How strong is the European microwave industry and what influence does it have globally? What are the drivers shaping the future? Will wireless technology dominate? Will the development of new materials open up new frontiers? And what role will the defe...

September 14, 2004
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European Microwave Week has become the focal point in the microwave industry calendar, when the community convenes to debate and discuss the state of the commercial climate and the strength and depth of global activity. The key questions being: What are the technological advancements coming to the fore? What trends will shape the future? What sectors are developing, which are stagnant and are any dying?


Microwave Journal considers these questions and has taken European Microwave Week as its lead, focusing specifically on the segmentation of the four individual conferences: the European Microwave Conference (EuMC), the European Conference on Wireless Technology (ECWT), the Gallium Arsenide and other compound semiconductors Application Symposium (GAAS“) and the European Radar Conference (EuRAD).

There are key issues germane to each conference that raise specific agendas and themes:

  • Microwaves and RF – the drive is towards higher levels of integration of components, the development of packaging techniques and the utilisation of new materials, alongside a growing interest in antenna research and development.
  • Wireless technologies – A key question is will 3G ever take off and have the impact that was expected or will other technologies and systems come to the fore?
  • Semiconductors – While the GaAs sector matures and consolidates other technologies and materials are emerging, in particular wide band gap semiconductors such as SiC and GaN, along with SiGe and silicon CMOS.
  • Radar – Against a background of political unpredictability the traditional military and home security applications continue to be strong, while the technology is also finding its niche in a variety of commercial applications.

In this report the individual conference Chairmen each present an overview of their market sectors and executives whose companies play a key role in determining the direction and prosperity of the European microwave industry provide a commercial perspective in the ‘company survey.’ First, though, in order to provide a context for these opinions let us consider the political, technological and commercial environment in which the European microwave industry is operating.

European Perspective

The expansion of the European Union in May 2004 raised the EU’s population to 450 million, making it the world’s largest trading bloc. Consequently the ten new member states have stronger trade links with the other EU members and, together with the Newly Independent States (NIS) of the former Soviet Union, are potentially lucrative markets, particularly for high technology products.

A prime example is the mobile communications market, with cell phones no longer viewed as a luxury item but as a necessity. In fact, while the penetration rate of mobile handsets is close to 80 percent in western Europe it is only just nearing 25 percent in eastern Europe. Not surprisingly then, 2003 saw the entire region comfortably record double-digit growth rates with Russia registering 120 percent. There seems no reason why such healthy growth should not continue at least into the near future so long as suppliers take a long-term view. Specifically, the present affordability of handsets and services must be maintained and the development of the infrastructure supported and grown apace.

3G – Is There a Future?

In terms of mass market the industry continues to debate the release of 3G. Long delayed and expensive, pessimists fear it will be dead on arrival. 3G promised to support wideband data services of up to 2 Mbps but has to compete with technologies such as wireless LAN that can offer burst rates of up to 11 Mbps. And while wireless data revenues are predicted to significantly increase generally, 3G networks may not see the benefits in the near term. That is not a view shared by many of the major handset manufacturers who are continuing to develop and bring 3G products to market. They may be taking the view that getting units out to the public will stimulate interest and, therefore, the market. The reality, though, may be that it is too late as the industry is already setting its sights on the next generation of wireless systems and looking to Beyond 3G and 4G.

There is no doubt that the progress of mobile communications has greatly benefited from the contribution of semiconductors both for the infrastructure and handsets. So far, Europe has only played a minor role in semiconductor development due to a significant shift in manufacturing towards Asia and China, where growth is set to continue. That may all be changing though as Europe is beginning to make its mark by investing in research and development, and focusing on innovation. In fact, according to World Semiconductor Trade Statistics (WSTS) European semiconductor sales in March 2004 were $3.15 B – a 24.4 percent increase on the same month last year. Admittedly, one good month does not make a trend but is an indication of increased activity and, perhaps more importantly, of confidence.

Significantly too, European fabless companies are showing renewed vigour with some semiconductor companies outsourcing their manufacturing to Europe. The reason being the high level of capital investment and advanced state of technology allied to the fact that the high level of automation means labour costs are not a decisive factor, whereas customer satisfaction is. One area where Europe is still lagging behind is in the GaN and SiC markets where there is no active European manufacturer to compete with the dominance of the US, Japan and Korea.

Help may be at hand, as semiconductor research is just one of the areas being targeted by the European Commission’s Networks of Excellence initiative, which is funded from the 6th RTD Framework Programme to the tune of €17.5 B. The objective is to make European research more efficient and to keep it internationally competitive in the long term. The Networks foster co-operation between capacities of excellence existing in universities, research centres, enterprises (SMEs as well as big enterprises) and technology organizations.

Each acts as a ‘virtual centre of excellence’ dedicated to enhancing the progress of knowledge on selected, socially relevant topics, forging network partnerships and developing a common research strategy. Microwave technologies are already subjects of specific Networks in the areas of: terrestrial wireless infrastructure integrated with satellite telecommunications; self-assembled semiconductor nanostructures for new devices in photonics and electronics; and metamaterials organized for radio, millimetre-wave, and photonic superlattice engineering, along with separate research on HPAs and LNAs. And more may follow.

Defence

The defence and military sector has historically been an important proving ground for microwave technology. Political events make accurate predictions difficult. A consequence of this unpredictable threat environment is the blurring of the traditional borders between national defence, the paramilitary and domestic security. In Europe, only a few countries have a global military presence and most are primarily concerned with protecting their own borders. This is particularly true for the new EU member states and those from the NIS where national security systems rather than military hardware are the priority.

Radar has always had a key role to play in the defence and surveillance sector, and through the development of tracking, targeting and multifunction radars will continue to do so. However, radar is also finding more and more commercial applications. It has become a quantitive sensor instrument and is being utilised in industrial/process control and the automotive industry.

Overviews and Surveys

The European Perspective has highlighted the ‘headline’ topics – the tip of the technological iceberg – but there is much more beneath the surface, all supported by research and development and commercial investment. To discover the depth of this activity Microwave Journal asked the Chairmen of the four European Microwave Week conferences for an overview of their market sector in order to identify the present and future trends, consider how technology is developing and what long term impact it is likely to have, not forgetting how the sector fits into the greater microwave picture.

In a position to add a practical and commercial perspective are the executives of the companies canvassed for the ‘company survey.’ Representing a cross-section of the industry, both geographically and in terms of product focus, they offer an insight into current market conditions and technological development. The format is generally a brief overview of the company’s microwave activity, followed by comments on technological and market initiatives.

Although the overview and surveys concentrate on one of the four conference categories they also keep an industry wide perspective and recognise the interaction across disciplines. By the same token, although the focus is on Europe, technology does not recognise geographical boundaries. Today’s markets are global with developments pioneered on one continent impacting on others.

Microwaves and RF

Sector overview by EuMC Chairman, Professor Piet van Genderen

Being dedicated to a wide range of RF and microwave components, circuits and applications, the European Microwave Conference is a good barometer of the areas of current activity and development. Although the focus changes from year to year the content of the submitted papers sheds light on the activity of research groups, not only in Europe but also throughout the world. For instance, 25 percent of the submissions are on passive microwave and RF circuits and components, a percentage matched by active circuits and systems. Significantly, of growing interest are the antenna and associated analysis and design tools and techniques (20 percent), while 15 percent are related to technology and materials.

The current key words in microwave research are ‘small,’ ‘compact,’ ‘planar,’ ‘low cost’ and particularly, ‘low power,’ indicating that a higher level of integration of radiators, active and passive circuits, feed structure and interconnection techniques is sought. Alongside the development of these filters, amplifiers, switches, radiators, mixers, etc., and supporting the integration of components, is the development of packaging techniques and new artificial materials. In particular, there are the meta-materials, low temperature co-fired ceramics (LTCC) and also the opportunities offered by microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) components. Packaging technology is very relevant from the perspective of integration. Top down technologies (i.e., devices created from bulk material) are most important, but bottom-up technologies (i.e., nano-technologies) are gaining attention and their advantages and limitations are becoming better understood.

The cost of fabrication is a frequently addressed issue too, for which the objective is for low cost, economy-of-scale applications. For the development of components, circuits and systems the specific application is not always relevant but it is noticeable that the trend towards a higher level of integration is mostly motivated by wireless communications and, to a lesser degree, by radar.

The growing interest in antenna research is also motivated by the key words referred to earlier, with the addition of ‘reduced size’ and ‘printed.’ The integration of radiating elements, the arraying of elements, the feed structure, active and passive components and interconnection techniques are all driven by the same desire for small, compact, lightweight, planar systems, operating with a high level of integration.

Microwaves and RF is a wide subject supporting an even wider range of components, all of which are significant in their own right and the EuMC conference addresses the development of most. For instance, the wide variety of technologies – LTCC, bulk acoustic wave (BAW), high temperature superconductor (HTSC), planar structures and waveguide filters is covered. As far as packaging and interconnection techniques and technology are concerned embedding components, microwave transitions, optical links, vias and techniques on how to avoid them are particularly significant. In the field of antennas the emphasis is mostly on planar structures and arrayed radiators, with drivers being towards reduced size, integration with other system functions, and the use of special materials.

Company Surveys

Chelton Telecom & Microwave
Pan European

Part of the Chelton Group, Chelton TM is made up of separate European subsidiaries and specialises in the manufacture of rigid and flexible waveguides for space, telecom and military applications. As an integrator of RF and microwave components and systems the company provides engineering support through its R&D staff and is involved in build-to-print and build-to-specification subsystems.

As well as its core business the company has built on 20 years experience in the space technology field, treating customers as partners and actively involved when they define subsystems/systems development. Chelton TM prides itself on its awareness of market evolution and has been pro-active in expanding earth solutions to its customers. The company combines the strength of its subsidiaries to produce a constructive technical solution in line with the customer’s specifications and budget.

Through close cooperation with customers, significant products that have been developed include the portable radar generator tester, radar transponder tester, displacement measurement unit, multi-carrier test bench, frequency converters and switching matrix. The company also takes advantage of its well-equipped R&D department to develop, simulate and test broadwall components and systems in its laboratories.

Microwave and RF components are increasingly expected to operate in harsh conditions where quality counts. Therefore, Chelton TM provides flexible, high accuracy and reasonable cost products to associated markets where customers consider cost along with effectiveness.

The view is that development of increasingly complex technologies will force companies to adopt a reliable approach, concurrent engineering, design, tests and manufacturing effectiveness. With customers being confident to cooperate with suppliers, like CTM, that have anticipated continuously evolving markets and have the experience and expertise to satisfy requirements.

With regards to what will be the driving forces in the industry the company’s view is that due to activity in both the civilian and professional fields, microwave technology will continue its development in these areas. Examples given are for space stations, military surveillance, ground communications, wireless development and particularly the development of security in sensitive areas.

As for future trends, wireless communications is seen as influencing the microwave industry significantly. Chelton TM intends to play its role by strengthening its international presence and expand its business by offering an even wider range of products. As it operates in different complex fields, the strategy will be to continue to support customers and provide them with up to date technology and quality of service.

Farran Technology
Ireland

As a primary supplier of leading-edge millimetre-wave (mm-wave) systems and subsystems to major system integrators, the company’s products are used in the security and defence markets, and are horizontally integrated across broadband wireless, satellite, radar and advanced imaging applications.

Using its know-how in designing and manufacturing multi-chip MMIC-based subsystems, Farran has built a mm-wave Electronic Subsystems and Systems (ESS) business serving the needs of large system integrators and commercial customers. The applications cover primarily the frequency range of 10 to 140 GHz and use hybrid designs incorporating discrete and MMIC elements.

Utilizing its in-depth knowledge of mm-wave technology, and patented scanning techniques, the company has recently developed a mm-wave camera that can ‘see-through’ clothes, fog, clouds and materials such as plasterboard. This breakthrough allows the generation of high resolution, real-time images at a fraction of the cost of conventional systems, with the potential to take mm-wave imaging from the scientific arena into the commercial mass market. Effort is being invested in active versions of these systems for related markets such as airborne landing systems.

Commenting on the impact of these new developments on the market, Dr. David Vizard, director, Sales ESS Systems, says, “The ESS business investment addresses the expansion of deployment of mm-wave systems in the defence and niche civil markets, such as specialized radars and/or broadband last mile wireless systems. The requirement for state-of-the-art performance for mm-wave MMIC devices in GaAs and InP technologies is thus expected to remain strong.”

He continues, “The volumes of such devices may not to be significant when compared to automotive or other consumer led products, with the possible exception of the potential for ‘wireless fibre radios’ being promoted by the recent FCC frequency de-regulation, and system houses like Cisco and Nokia.”

“Furthermore, imaging technologies in the mm-wave and sub-mm region are likely to develop further needs for multi-pixel array type 2D systems, much as the development of the digital camera market was spurred by the availability of low cost charge-coupled devices (CCD). We regard the innovative packaging of such front-end devices including optical and electrical scanning arrangements to be critical to the commercial success of such emerging systems.”

His vision is clear too when considering potential markets when he says, “Given the significant new applications of mm-wave imaging technologies and the worldwide need to improve security screening systems (Homeland Security Applications) we believe that this market has the potential to become a significant driving force for the industry over the next five to ten years. Additionally, the emergent wireless broadband technologies have the potential to make a major impact on both civil and military communication networks, provided that the price of such systems can be significantly reduced from current implementations.”

On a company level, in the future, Farran will be promoting the development of custom designed MMIC-based devices to support the needs of its subsystem integrators, and the emerging needs of the advanced imaging systems that the company is bringing to market.

Huber + Suhner
Switzerland

Technical expertise in RF, fibre optics, cables and polymers are all available under one roof and specifically in the RF and microwave field the company provides connectivity solutions for RF and optical applications. Focusing on the range of frequencies from 1 to 100 GHz, Huber + Suhner delivers connectivity components such as connectors and cables on the one hand and on the other wireless connectivity elements ranging from the antenna as a single element up to RF front ends combining passive and active RF elements through to subunits.

Applications for these products are in the communication, industrial and transportation sectors, providing a mix that gives a broad customer base in which the company can deliver customer application-tailored solutions that meet demanding requirements. This is achieved by capitalising on having a combination of materials technology together with RF and optical technology all within the same organisation.

That expertise is currently being employed to develop millimetre-wave front end solutions combining active and passive RF elements, together with a strong push towards higher frequencies (100 GHz) and a focus on miniaturisation. In fact, in the communication market, the company's view is that miniaturisation and the need for higher data rates will be driving the development of devices and systems. Communication too is considered to be a major part of developing transportation systems, both for data and information, while in the industrial arena wireless technologies are reforming logistical concepts and manufacturing.

Taking this further, the company's philosophy is the development of new technologies that can stimulate the market, particularly high volume solutions that can result in drastic price reductions. An important proviso being to create real value for the consumer that he wants when he needs it. A typical example being the demand by consumers for higher data rates and how the availability of WLAN and asymmetric digital subscriber loop (ADSL) not only satisfies that need but also feeds it. And it is new technologies such as more complex modulation systems used in satellite communication that have made this possible.

Over the next few years Huber + Suhner expects the trend in RF and microwave components to be towards increasing the data rate and reducing the device and system size at acceptable prices. Also, the belief is that the implementation of IEEE 802.11/16/20 will transform the communication sector, which will also impact the microwave industry.

Thales Microelectronics
France

As part of the Thales Group the company services a specific niche focused on RF and microwave applications from components (mainly oscillators) up to complete S-band satellite transceivers. Activity is mainly in the military, space, avionics, maritime and professional markets. Its primary market is for RF and microwave oscillators, with the emphasis on providing high stability, high frequencies (up to 12 GHz), low phase noise, wide frequency bandwidth, low cost substrates and SMD components.

Other activities include the custom design of power amplifiers for professional and space applications up to 3 GHz, switching from 0.5 to 18 GHz based on PIN diodes and the utilisation of LTCC substrate and microelectronics technology. The company also capitalises on its expertise in producing low power consumption designs through its experience in developing products for embedded applications.

Specific investment is going into the development of oscillators such as the oven-controlled crystal oscillator (OCXO) and digital temperature compensated crystal oscillator (DTCXO) with the objective of trying to get the best frequency stability with the lowest power consumption for embedded applications. Indeed, the company believes that new technologies will always push SMT electronics and microelectronics towards higher frequencies with the resulting reduction in overall costs making products more accessible.

Thales Microelectronics’ view is that the defence market will always be important as far as the microwave industry is concerned, but it is not liable to be a major growth market as defence budgets are likely to be reduced. On the other hand the communications industry still has a high growth potential and the requirements for higher bandwidths for audio and video broadcasts will stimulate a move towards higher frequencies. Mobile Web connections, terrestrial digital television and future cell phone generations could also be key drivers.

With regards to future trends the thinking is that over the coming years the main evolution in the microwave industry will be component or chip encapsulation. Also, SMT housings are becoming more compatible with microwave frequencies, bridging the cost barrier with lower frequencies.

To this end the strategy for the RF team of Thales Microelectronics will be to progress from the component level to the sub-assembly level for OEM customers. This strategy is already being applied to the Cospas-Sarsat beacon market for which the company provides the low power, highly stable OCXO. The result being that it can offer customers complete electronics solutions while ensuring low power consumption.

Wireless Technology

Sector overview by ECWT Chairman, Ramjee Prasad and ECWT Secretary, Homayoun Nikookar

Microwave is the ‘foundation stone’ in the evolution of wireless personal multimedia communications. Ever since the invention of wireless, there has been a strong link between the development of wireless communications and modern microwave techniques. Consequently, how wireless communications fit into and enhance the greater microwave picture is highlighted in the 2004 European Conference on Wireless Technologies (ECWT), which is an essential and integral part of European Microwave Week. So, what are the hot topics that will be discussed? What are the current trends and in which direction is the wireless sector moving?

First, based on the rapid growth of wireless communications, market studies anticipate that over the next six years, more than 90 million mobile subscribers will use mobile multimedia services in Europe with 60 percent of the traffic being in terms of transmitted bits. Further afield, market predictions also indicate that in China, by the year 2008, there will be more than 400 million mobile users and over 150 million multimedia applications.

On the technology front, third generation (3G) wireless communications promised to support wideband data services with rates of up to 2 Mbps. However, current predictions are that while wireless data revenues will rapidly increase, 3G networks will account for less than 25 percent of that revenue by 2010. To this end, the next generation of wireless systems (Beyond 3G or 4G) has already received much attention by industry experts, wireless operators and researchers. High usability and global coverage, wideband connectivity and quality of service, high capacity, user-oriented services and low cost are major features of Beyond 3G wireless systems.

A prerequisite in moving towards 4G wireless communication systems is the ability to support advanced and broadband multimedia services. Key technologies for Beyond 3G communications are adaptive orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) and multi-input multi-output (MIMO), which promise robust, high capacity, high speed wireless broadband multimedia communications.

Another current research hot topic, in the field of wireless communications, is wireless ad hoc networks. Over the past few years this area has seen rapid expansion, which is mainly due to the proliferation of cheap, widely available wireless devices and interest in mobile computing. Major challenges in this area are exploitation of new technologies such as adaptive and MIMO techniques in wireless ad hoc networks.

Ultra wideband (UWB) is another technology that is destined to see increased use in the future for high-speed close range wireless communications and ranging. Due to its extremely large bandwidth, this technology offers many advantages over conventional wideband systems. Among them are high performance at low cost, very low transmit power, and high processing gains that can allow a large number of users to access the system. Fusion of precise positioning and data capability in a single technology is the remarkable feature of UWB technology.

Finally, although all of these technologies will be significant, it will be a combination of these techniques that will have the greatest impact on future wireless communication systems.

Company Surveys

Chipcon
Norway

“Our products typically target short range systems with many nodes, where high data rates are not required, but where low power consumption and very low cost nodes are essential,” states Chipcon’s CTO, Svein Anders Tunheim when summing up the core activities in the wireless domain of the international semiconductor manufacturer. The company designs, produces and markets high performance standard radio frequency integrated circuits (RFIC) for use in a variety of wireless applications. These include RFICs and RF system-on-chips (SoC) for operation in the 300 MHz to 1 GHz frequency bands and at 2.4 GHz, while an increasingly important sector of the product portfolio is RFICs and complete solutions for ZigBee and IEEE 802.15.4.

The main application areas for the company’s products are home and building automation, industrial control and monitoring, consumer electronics (wireless game controllers, wireless audio, wireless PC mouse/keyboard) and automatic meter reading (AMR). In particular, Tunheim emphasises, “With ZigBee and IEEE 802.15.4 we expect that the home and building automation will become increasingly important, and these standards will find their use in several applications. There will be an overlap between ZigBee/ IEEE 802.15.4 and proprietary solutions and for some applications, especially within the consumer oriented home automation market, it is expected that, after a few years, ZigBee will dominate.”

To this end the company continually develops new products, including RF transceivers and true system-on-chips, with the focus on reducing production costs and power consumption as well as increasing the integration level. Tunheim comments, “What is important is that Chipcon will provide a complete solution for ZigBee, i.e., in addition to RFICs for ZigBee and IEEE 802.15.4 we will offer a complete ZigBee protocol stack together with high quality development tools and kits.”

Tunheim continues, “For system developers it is much more cost effective to design their applications based on a common standardized ZigBee platform than to create a new proprietary solution from scratch each time. Furthermore, OEMs obtain global solutions and independence from RFIC manufacturers, due to the 2.4 GHz standardized by IEEE 802.15.4.”

With regards to how new technologies can stimulate relevant markets, Tunheim comments, “On the silicon process technology side, submicron CMOS is important.” He continues, “Furthermore, as analogue/RF circuitry do not scale with process geometries with the same degree as digital modules, and the lower supply voltage introduces challenges with regards to obtaining sufficient dynamic range, the benefits of deep submicron CMOS (i.e. 0.13 mm and below) are not clear. New innovative RF transceiver architectures will be needed to exploit the benefits of such processes for RFICs for wireless monitoring and control applications.”

With regards to future developments, Tunheim concludes, “ZigBee and IEEE 802.15.4 will be influential enablers for ubiquitous wireless monitoring and control systems, while for the RFICs themselves the trend will most likely move towards increased use of SoCs, especially for ZigBee, to lower the total bill of materials.”

Filtronic
United Kingdom

The company’s activities in the wireless field are wide ranging, including wireless infrastructure RF and microwave products for mobile communications base stations (all aspects) and cellular handset products, particularly handset antennas. Compound semiconductor products (RF, microwave, millimetre-wave) include high volume products for cellular and LAN applications. Add to that well-established defence electronics and point-to-point transceivers, along with modular RF and microwave products.

Consequently, the company is currently most active in the mobile communications and wireless communications markets, together with its wireless infrastructure and cellular antenna products, for which it is a world leader. Power amplifiers, integrated transceivers, compound semiconductor products and defence products are all significant areas of investment. In particular the example of power amplifiers offering improved efficiency and performance at reduced cost is given as an illustration of how new technology can stimulate the market.

Asked how such new developments would impact on associated markets, Chris Snowden, chief executive officer, Filtronic Integrated Products (embracing compound semiconductors, defence, point-to-point transceiver businesses and modular products) states, “They will increase Filtronic’s market share and offer cost-effective products with enhanced technical performance.” Commenting on what he considered to be the major driving forces in the wireless industry, he said, “Operator capital expenditure and consumer spending (handsets/WLANs), while the lack of any significant European defence investment by government is not stimulating the defence market in contrast to substantial US activity in defence.”

In the future he sees the trend towards higher levels of integration and the drive for cost reduction continuing. For what business/technology he sees the company adopting in the future, he answers, “To be continually adaptive!”

TNO-FEL
The Netherlands

The Networked Embedded Systems department is part of the Smart Sensor Solutions division of the TNO Physics and Electronics Laboratory and focuses on the research and development of wireless sensor networks. These networks consist typically of a large number of low cost sensor-nodes that operate ad hoc and autonomously in real-time. Part of this research deals with the use of various standards for the short-range transmission of data between individual sensors and development of low power protocols for those networks. Technologies studied are diverse and include all kinds of commercial (e.g., IEEE 802.11, Bluetooth) and non-commercial standards. Other departments within the division perform research and development in the fields of smart antenna technology, RF and microwave front-end design and the research and development of MMIC technology.

The company is mainly active in the defence, public safety and security industries, including defence, process and advanced electronics. Historically the main market has been defence, but due to the company’s strong technological expertise, the spin off into other sectors is growing rapidly. Currently, TNO is investing heavily in the development of wireless sensor networks, particularly the development of design tools and enabling technology. An example is in the communication between the sensor nodes by pulse-based UWB, WLAN and Bluetooth. Effort is also being put into the development of energy-efficient communication protocols and the development of low cost sensor nodes.

It is envisaged that the use of networked embedded systems, in general, and wireless sensor networks, in particular, will augment current solutions and also generate new areas of application. The embryonic technology of Networked Embedded Systems is slowly becoming more and more mature. Consequently, a multitude of markets are showing interest and acknowledging the vast possibilities of this technology.

The company states that over the next few years the use of wireless sensor networks will grow very rapidly. This growth will mainly be driven by the dramatic reduction of cost for individual sensor-nodes (very high volumes) but will be dependent on the ability of researchers and developers to generate a dramatic reduction in power consumption (long endurance). Critical to success will be convincing traditional customers to move to the new technology or find a ‘middle-man’ willing to promote it. Hence, TNO sees the development of new business models as essential.

As far as trends are concerned the view is that over the next few years activity will be geared towards miniaturisation, improved power management and more efficient network protocols. The standardisation of pulse-based UWB will continue and could lead to high bandwidth communication for small area networks.

There is also a good deal of optimism. TNO is a specialist in wireless sensor systems and the belief is that if the hardware becomes very low cost and power reduction techniques ensure endurance of up to several years there will be numerous new applications for wireless sensor networks in the near future.

Semiconductors

Sector overview by GAAS® 2004 Chairman, Frank van den Bogaart

The 12th GAAS® 2004 Conference focuses on Gallium Arsenide semiconductors and all other compound semiconductors. This illustrates one of the main trends over recent years – that gallium arsenide has proven itself to be a major mature technology with its own consolidated product range and market. Other semiconductor technologies and materials that are highlighted at the conference include SiGe, SiC, GaN and other nitrides, InP and silicon CMOS.

In particular wide band gap semiconductors such as GaN and SiC get a lot of attention with numerous papers submitted on these topics, in addition to a special focused session and workshop. What is interesting, and fully in line with international trends, is that the contributions from Europe in this field are mainly from universities and research laboratories. On the other hand, the contributions from the US and Japan focus on products and applications, while their research is already directed towards emerging materials such as oxides.

The same is true for the GaN and SiC market with US, Japanese and Korean companies selling products. In Europe, though, there are currently no manufacturers of these products and wide band gap technology is still in the research phase, mainly focused on device technology. However, there are a number of initiatives being undertaken in Europe at present aimed at bridging this gap. Wide band gap products are traditionally high power amplifiers, but we are now seeing other applications emerging that benefit from the special features of this technology, particularly the very high breakdown voltages.

SiGe and silicon CMOS will get more attention at GAAS® 2004 than in previous years, with many applications for WLAN, Bluetooth and other networking products being presented. Silicon CMOS is also finding its way into these RF and microwave sectors. The key words for silicon CMOS are ‘low cost,’ ‘high dynamic range’ and ‘low power consumption,’ not forgetting ‘short development times’ with low NRE costs targeting the mass volume markets. With these key word characteristics, it addresses a completely new market in addition to the traditional GaAs one, indicating that both technologies have their own viable market potential. Regarding SiGe, the focus at the conference is mainly directed towards HBT BiCMOS technology developments, especially low phase noise and other oscillator applications.

Internationally, a good deal of research and (product) development work is dedicated to GaAs high power amplifiers, reflecting the market need for such products. They range from high power applications for radar and baseband stations to power amplifiers for cellular and networking products. Especially, the focus is on linearity in all its facets. We could see a trend developing where linear HBT products are mainly developed for the cellular market, while high efficiency pHEMTS find their way into real high power applications.

In addition to power amplifiers we do see numerous low noise applications in GaAs, or in GaAs with a higher indium content. Ranging from LNAs with extremely low noise figures for radio astronomy to LNAs for various kinds of telecommunication applications. Another consolidated product application where GaAs distinguishes itself from the other technologies is in the higher frequency bands. In particular, Ku-band, Ka-band and wideband products are now finding their way into commercial applications.

Of course the development of semiconductor technology is not a goal in itself but is driven by current and future market applications and by mass volume manufacturing technologies. As a result, it cannot be seen as a standalone technology, but in combination with its associated board, assembly and packaging technology that are as important. A key trend is the move from (packaged) die to modules that also include passives, with modules becoming smaller and smaller and with more and more functionality.

Company Surveys

Infineon Technologies
Germany

As one of the world’s leading suppliers of semiconductor devices, modules and systems for RF applications the company’s products address mainly wireless communications including cellular (both terminal and infrastructure), contactless chip cards, cordless, WLAN, Bluetooth and GPS applications. ICs and complete chipsets are supplemented by a line of standard RFICs such as prescalers, PLLs and modulators, and by general-purpose discrete RF devices. For cellular terminals the company can supply complete system kits for all standards worldwide (2/2.5 and 3G). For wireless infrastructure there are RF power devices and standard RF components for base station applications, while in-house technologies for RF devices and ICs include advanced SiGe, BiCMOS, RF CMOS and LDMOS technologies.

Viewed as particular business sectors for present and future development and investment are multi-mode, multi-band highly power efficient cellular handsets enabling advanced user functionality by seamlessly integrating diverse networks (cellular, WLAN and WPAN) and multimedia services. The respective challenges to be met will require the company to capitalise on its broad knowledge base including its semiconductor devices and processes; design expertise at circuit, architecture and system level; implementation and production, not forgetting the software competences necessary to achieve such a complex system chipset IC/module solution. The result being complete system kits (ICs, modules and software).

It is believed that these new developments will lead to much higher functionality, while lowering costs. Although the frequency ranges and requirements are different, this could form the basis for bringing other potentially high volume RF applications such as wireless RF sensors in the home or in cars at reasonable cost to market.

That said, the company view is that new technologies can only stimulate the market if they result in much higher functionality, lower current consumption, decreased size or better performance at an equivalent or lower cost.

Considered to be one of the major driving forces for the microwave semiconductor industry is continuous cost. Infineon considers integration of RF and analogue components (along with digital baseband and application processing) on standard CMOS technology as an essential key to achieving this. Consequently, the company has an ambitious program in place to integrate all necessary components (RF, analogue and baseband) on standard CMOS technology very soon.

As for the future, it is foreseen that device manufacturers will move more towards system solution suppliers and sub or complete system integrators with the target being to achieve complete system solutions.

Philips Semiconductors
The Netherlands

Designed to provide optimal synergy to meet customers’ needs, while maintaining commitment to each individual market segment, the company’s new business model integrates the RF power activities for the microwave market with those of broadcast and base stations. The main undertaking being the development of high power (10 to 500 W) RF power Si LDMOS transistors for cellular base stations

(1 and 2 GHz and UMTS 2.2 GHz), broadcast (digital and analogue) and microwave (L and S-band radar) power amplifiers. These activities are extended to fixed wireless access (LMDS, MMDS) standards like WIMAX, or basically any wireless standard using peak/average power levels higher than 10 W in frequency bands up to 3.5 GHz.

Effort is currently being channelled into base station Si LDMOS RF power for high power LDMOS transistors for EDGE, CDMA and WCDMA power amplifiers, integrated high power multistage RFICs (MMICs) of the order of 15 to 60 W, high power plastic packaging and integrated high power modules. The achieved aim being high efficiency and gain.

Significant investment has been targeted towards high power MMIC technology as well as high power Si LDMOS technology. Both are expected to impact on associated microwave markets in that they will result in cost reductions at the component level, reduce development time for customers (integrated solutions) and improve the performance of base station power amplifiers. Both will also enable the application of the company’s Si LDMOS technology for high frequency microwave applications (such as high S-band, currently only covered by bipolar technology) as well as fixed wireless access standards.

Philips Semiconductors considers the major driving forces for the microwave semiconductor industry to be high performance, high gain and integration. All of which will have a bearing on reducing operational, component, developmental and overall costs.

In general, though, the company believes a significant driving force to be the ever-increasing demand for wireless communication at any point where there is currently a cable data connection.

Whereas currently each type of cable data connection is replaced by the most suitable standard, there will be migration towards an overall data standard (4G developments) that can combine/replace all these standards or at least guarantee seamless system interoperability. Systems will connect automatically to available wireless networks of any standard. Therefore, there will be a drive towards higher frequency bands to get additional bandwidth for the 100 MB/s as defined for 4G wireless services and the ever-continuing demand for lower costs.

When asked to consider whether there was a particular business/technology strategy that the company would adopt in future the answer was to move from component manufacturing into power amplifiers (PA) (or integrated building blocks for PAs) manufacturing and progress up the value chain to ensure that with eroded pricing a growing business can be sustained. Also, integration on silicon will replace integration in module form, and will thus make the silicon vendor the most appropriate party to deliver integrated building blocks or complete power amplifiers as one or a few pieces of silicon.

It is also envisaged that high power PAs will move from high tech equipment into commodities, and will follow the same path as PA modules for handsets, and could in time move into system solution offerings as is the case for handsets today. The rider being that it will take at least five to eight years for base station PAs to reach that level.

United Monolithic Semiconductors
France

The design and manufacture of catalogue products using GaAs-based technologies in pHEMT and HBT is a key activity. So too, is the design and manufacture of custom products, together with the provision of an Open Foundry Service. Added to that, UMS focuses, and will continue to focus, on niche markets at lower volumes and high added value.

The areas in which the company is currently active are diverse – for instance, automotive radar at 24 and 77 GHz, where volumes are low today but with future potential. The telecom market has always been a core business and is showing signs of sustained recovery, while defence activity is mainly to supply shareholders’ needs. Complementary to the defence business is the space sector, which is low volume but offers high added value. Not forgetting electronic toll collection at 5.8 GHz, which has relatively high volumes, with low margins but provides loading to the foundry.

UMS focuses on providing products and services to a relatively small number of key customers in the telecom and defence industries where there is a mutual dependency.

The main driver in the telecom market is cost-reduction and the company is contributing to this by providing more and more packaged solutions. Components in the traditional bare die form are expensive to assemble into modules and also limit the number of potential subcontractors available to the OEMs. Packaged products allow far greater flexibility in manufacturing and at a lower cost.

The defence industry is traditionally, and will continue to be, driven by high performance at low volumes. UMS continues to invest design resources and technology development in providing specific solutions to meet customers’ demanding and challenging needs. A common aim of customers in the telecom, defence and other markets is a desire to limit the number of suppliers they deal with. The company works closely with all its customers to ensure we provide complete chipsets and ASICS to completely serve their needs.

Cost-reduction is the major focus for all UMS’ customers across all markets. As in most electronics markets, the expectation is for greater functionality/performance at a continually decreasing cost. This expectation will continue. Clearly, a major influence on the GaAs market will be continued consolidation and rationalisation until the situation with overcapacity has stabilised.

The increase in performance at higher frequencies of silicon will be a major influence on higher volume markets, such as automotive radar. The performance of silicon is steadily increasing at higher and higher frequencies and this is already having an effect on ‘traditional’ GaAs markets. Clearly, it will not pose a threat at low volumes due to the cost of a production mask set. GaN will start to emerge as a serious technology in the next few years. UMS is involved in this new technology, but will not invest in any product development until four inch wafers become available in 2006 or 2007.

UMS will continue to provide complete solutions to customers’ needs. This has traditionally been done using GaAs technology, but the company will, whenever appropriate, work with external foundries in other technologies to provide the optimum solution.

Radar

Sector overview by EuRAD 2004 Chairman, Leo Ligthart

One hundred years ago the German inventor Christian Hülsmeijer patented his ‘telemobiloscoop’ after demonstrating the detection of ships on the river Rhine near Cologne. In those days the expectations were not high and a limited use of the patent was foreseen. As this was the very first radar, it illustrates the difficulty in predicting the future of a technical breakthrough. Even nowadays, in my opinion, it is doubtful and certainly unreliable to predict the future of radar for the coming century. I therefore want to share my views on the potential of radar, based on expected progress in radar technology – hardware as well as software. I am particularly pleased to do so as the European Radar Conference (EuRAD) has its birth in Amsterdam in October, and becomes part of European Microwave Week, 100 years after Hülsmeijer’s invention.

Radar is the acronym for radio detection and ranging. However, nowadays with radar we can do much more than just answer the questions: Is there anything there and what is its distance? Indeed, radar has become a quantitative sensor instrument, enabling the measurement of all kinds of characteristics in terms of amplitude, phase and polarization and over a wide frequency range. At the same time quasi-instantaneous radar signal processing allows highly accurate determination of the dynamic properties of objects and imaging (modelled and experimental), including the visualization of objects in their operational environment.

Over recent decades radar hardware has made tremendous steps forwards. Modular radar hardware and UWB circuits and devices require research with regards to the development of microwave and millimetre-wave technologies, including fabrication technologies. The significant development of smart radar antennas is ongoing and antenna arrays with integrated processing modules are needed to support advanced surveillance and tracking functions.

Digital radar, not yet on the market, will be a topic that will get particular attention over the coming years and many developments will occur concerning the further digitization of radar components. The digital generation of radar waveforms at transmit and digital signal processing at receive, up to intermediate frequencies, are feasible and ready for implementation into a variety of new radar systems.

In summary, radar development will become more and more an interdisciplinary activity. This is demonstrated in various sessions in EuRAD 2004 and in the workshop devoted to Integrated Topside Design (ITD).

Company Surveys

e2v
United Kingdom

The diverse yet technologically complimentary fields of medicine and science, aerospace and defence, together with the commercial and industrial (including automotive) are all sectors for which the company designs and manufactures high technology components and subsystems. Currently, the greatest activity is in providing components and integrated assemblies for a number of defence and commercial radar systems as well as the supply of components for the automotive adaptive cruise control and car alarm sensors markets.

In particular, development programmes are in place, which address long and short range radar sensors for obstacle and intruder detection for the automotive and commercial markets. Another area of activity is in the development of surface-mount components for low cost commercial radars and phased array systems.

With regards to how new developments impact on the microwave and associated markets, Nigel Priestly, chief engineer, comments, “The automotive market is seeking the introduction of lower cost sensors as well as the need for fewer of them on the vehicle, while still having the ability to achieve 360° sensing, some long range and others short range.” He continues, “Phased array radar is currently moving towards higher levels of integration to simplify the system assembly and reduce costs while maintaining performance levels. For example, the desire to integrate transmit receive modules (TRM) with more of the complete network requires the individual components to be available in surface-mount form while still achieving high levels of performance.”

He also holds the view that, “New technologies are likely to stimulate, for example, the medical, security and surveillance markets. Terahertz imaging is a new technology area where we are involved in a collaborative project funded by EPSRC. Here, the need is to come up with new technology that will enable imaging equipment to be made small enough to be used by doctors in general practice as well as in hospitals.”

Priestly believes that, “The microwave industry is at an interesting time of change. Discussion continues as to the future direction of the volume markets in the communications and automotive sectors. Communications currently seems unlikely to live up to the original predictions but the future of automotive remains strong provided that the low cost targets can be met. The driving force here will increasingly be the need to significantly reduce road fatalities.

“Defence continues to play an important part and often runs in parallel with high volume, low cost manufacturing. Besides the long term defence programmes, which are relatively stable, the unpredictable nature of the war on terrorism and the volatility of some countries in Africa and Asia, indicates that new challenges are likely to appear often with little warning. The industry, therefore, must be flexible and have the ability to act quickly.”

He believes that, “Customers need solutions and this translates to microwave components which are able to provide a complete function reliably, often in a difficult environment and yet be assembly friendly and deliver the required performance at an affordable cost. This strategy should be the way ahead because we believe microwave technology is set to play a much greater role in our lives often without the public even realising it.”

Thales Nederland
The Netherlands

Active mainly in the naval and ground-based defence sectors this high tech company (formerly Thomson-CSF Signaal) specialises in designing and producing integrated defence systems for command and control, sensor and communications purposes. It has vast expertise in the fields of radar, infrared, weapon control, display technology and communications equipment.

In the microwave radar field its core activities are in integrated topside design (ITD), the aim of which is to design a naval vessel’s topside (i.e., the mast in which most of its sensors and antennae are positioned) in such a manner that these sensors and antennae do not affect each other’s operation, together with radar. As far as the latter is concerned Thales Nederland addresses surveillance, tracking and multi-function radars and also produces electro-optical sensors.

Of all these sectors the primary area of investment in development is in multi-function radar, with the Scaled ESSM Active Phased Array Radar (SEAPAR) system being the latest product of that investment. Another product being developed is the SMART family of multi-beam acquisition and targeting radars, with the latest member being an S-band surveillance and acquisition radar for medium to long range, specifically suitable for littoral operations.

Naval markets addressed reach as far afield as South Korea but are primarily European and, in fact, the SMART S1850M will be installed on the new frigates of the English, French and Italian navies, making the system the de facto long-range surveillance and acquisition radar of the European NATO navies.

Although the company focuses on the defence market, it is becoming increasingly dependent on new developments in civil technologies in order to be able to offer customers products that offer the optimal cost/efficiency ratio. This is only possible by making use of civil components that are rugged enough to survive and function in typical defence environments. At present, the drawback is that MMIC technology is still relatively expensive, as the wafers have to be bought and the complete packaging process done internally. It is hoped that modern applications such as GSM, GPS, Bluetooth, etc., will make it possible to obtain pre-packaged and tested components that are ready for pick and place production. And to such ends Thales Nederland aims to continue to make use of civil technology in the future.

Conclusions

This report is not intended to provide a definitive analysis of the microwave industry but to give insight into current activity, an understanding of the marketplace and identify future trends. The aim has also been to provide a balance between the academic and industrial and to recognise that today’s commercial climate dictates that products must have practical applications, a viable market and the means and resources to develop them.

Restructuring has recently reshaped the microwave industry. There have been acquisitions and takeovers and some that have stopped short of amalgamation have moved towards partnering in order to utilize market synergies. To optimise the use of resources and provide lower overheads there is a further move towards outsourcing to efficient and flexible subcontractors. There also appears to be genuine enthusiasm and commitment towards developing new products and technology. In 2004, though, that enthusiasm is tempered by the reality that projects must be realistic in their goals and have identifiable markets.

As for the future, mobile communications and wireless technologies will continue to grab the headlines with wireless LAN together with Beyond 3G and 4G set to get plenty of attention. New materials and the development of semiconductor technologies have the potential to be far reaching. The defence sector will continue to be a steady market, with more emphasis on national security systems, particularly in eastern Europe. And as radar technology enters its second century the trend is for it to be applied increasingly to commercial applications.

Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank the conference Chairmen and company executives who shared their in-depth knowledge and expertise. Their contributions have given rare insight into the microwave industry from those working at the forefront of academia and industry.

Recent Articles by Richard Mumford

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