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Microwaves in Europe: Past Challenges, Future Prospects
How have the events of the last decade impacted on the European microwave industry? How has it emerged from the market downturn of the early 2000s, accommodated the expansion of the European Union and embraced the globalisation of the marketplace? And ...
European Microwave Week (EuMW) celebrates its first decade in October and the intervening 10 years have been eventful and consequential for the European RF and microwaves industry. Back in 1997 confidence was fairly high after what was seen as recovery from the recession that had hit the microwave community quite hard in the early ’90s.
This was before the unprecedented ‘boom’ at the end of the late ’90s, but even then the statistics for the growth in mobile communications were impressive, not only for the suppliers but also for the pull-through that had been gained at the components, systems and backbone levels. Digital technologies, particularly the Global System for Mobile (GSM) communication, were reaping the benefits of the growth in demand and capitalising on the deregulation of the communications community.
Conversely, the defence and military markets were static in comparison and a number of microwave companies changed emphasis and boarded the communications gravy train. For many that ride proved to be hazardous and some companies did not survive the journey as the market’s subsequent downturn in the early 2000s claimed significant casualties. The telecommunications industry bore the brunt, but the knock-on effect that it had on associated markets in the RF and microwave sector has been far reaching.
Hard and painful lessons have been learned, but the European RF and microwaves industry has survived. In fact, as will be illustrated, the industry has evolved and transformed to such a degree that the 1997 scenario is largely unrecognisable now.
Similarly, Europe’s political and economic complexion is very different too. The expansion of the European Union has seen Eastern Europe gain prominence as a contributor to the overall economy, both as a growing consumer market and a competitor to traditional, established companies worldwide.
The global market is also a different entity. In particular it is being influenced by the phenomenon of Far East markets where internal economic growth, in China, other Asian countries and emerging economies such as India, allied to their infiltration of markets worldwide through mass produced, relatively cheap offerings is significant.
Europe cannot compete on the basis of cheap labour and therefore its main strategy has to be to raise productivity, make use of its highly skilled research and development capability and produce added value products and services. The RF and microwaves industry can play a key role in this objective and capitalise on the political, economic and industrial drivers that are now in place. Through structured initiatives the European Union strives for an inclusive, collaborative approach to technological and market development.
Such initiatives include the European Networks of Excellence (NoE) Programmes, many of which have targeted the RF and microwaves sector. This will continue and is set to expand its scope, reach and impact with the new seven year 7th Framework Programme (FP), which was introduced at the beginning of 2007.
The technology driving these programmes will be featured at European Microwave Week in Munich and be the subject of papers in the four individual conferences: the European Microwave Conference (EuMC), the European Conference on Wireless Technology (ECWT), the European Microwave Integrated Circuits Conference (EuMIC) and the European Radar Conference (EuRAD). In advance, Microwave Journal has capitalised on its unique access to the conference chairmen, academic contributors and key industrial players to evaluate current activities in the European microwaves and RF market and identify the trends shaping its future.
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’. To reflect the worldwide nature of the industry the author has canvassed companies across the globe actively participating in the European microwave market to provide an ‘international perspective’.
In order to provide a context for these opinions let’s first consider the political, commercial and technological environment in which the European microwave industry is operating 10 years after the first EuMW.
The dynamic of the European RF and microwaves industry has changed considerably in recent years with a degree of polarisation between West and East. Western Europe harbours considerable research and development expertise and is making every effort to effectively harness this rich technical and academic resource. Industry has adapted, for instance, many vertically integrated companies, formerly responsible for both product development and manufacturing have restructured their operations to allow them to concentrate on their core competencies. Companies are also opting to partner with like-minded and complementary companies/organisations worldwide for mutual benefit.
Due to growth in production networks and direct foreign investments, allied to relatively cheap labour costs Eastern Europe is emerging as a global hub for the electronics manufacturing industry and is now estimated to account for more than half of the overall European electronics market. Of course the region can’t compete on price with the likes of China and other Asian countries, but it can offer the West relatively low labour rates and potential savings in reduced time to market and freight costs.
The establishment of production facilities has significantly bolstered the economies of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, and further eastward expansion of the EU is likely to see countries that joined the EU in 2007, Bulgaria and Romania, follow suit. They are also potential markets for new business and investment.
It is sometimes overlooked, but Eastern Europe possesses a large pool of skilled labour with a high level of education and in particular Russia’s qualified technical labour force is relatively untapped. The presence of quality labour, catering to growth markets like telecommunications, makes such countries ideal for electronics manufacturing.
For industry to progress requires technological innovation and development. Research in Europe takes place at a national level, but there is also a strong cooperative research ethos developed over many years of EU Framework Programmes. The 6th FP supported many large microwave-related activities, including Networks of Excellence in the field of power amplifiers (TARGET), RF MEMS (AMICOM), and antennas (ACE).
On 29 October 2006, the European Parliament adopted a Competitiveness and Innovation framework Programme (CIP) for the period 2007–2013, with a final budget of €3.62 B. This 7th Framework Programme is conceived to become the backbone for the construction of a European knowledge economy. Spanning a period of seven years for the first time, the 7th FP will largely build on the themes of the 6th FP with the addition of security research and space, to reflect the growing importance the EU is attaching to this sector. Within each theme, there is sufficient flexibility to accommodate new emerging topics of scientific, industrial or policy interest.
From the technical content of FP7, wireless communications and technology is well represented, both in terms of basic technologies and applications. Moreover, many projects will be focused on micro/nano-systems, which will boost microwave technology. In addition, there are currently more than 30 European Technology Platforms addressing strategic technological challenges, some of which are related to RF/microwave technology.
Importantly, in order to address Europe’s weakness in commercialising the results of research and to identify the market potential of new technology, the 7th FP is specifically tailored to meet industry’s needs. Where industrially relevant, the definition of work programmes will draw on the strategic research agendas developed by industry-led technology platforms. These agendas, presenting the European dimension of research challenges, also influence national research programmes. Industry is being encouraged to participate in funding and to actively contribute to the Networks of Excellence.
Also, with the support of national agencies and the European Space Agency (ESA), the pan-European development of the Galileo global navigation infrastructure system is moving towards its goal of being fully operational in 2012.
RF and Microwaves
The RF and microwaves industry is a complex web of interdependencies between highly specialist components manufacturers, subsystem manufacturers and large scale equipment contractors. Across the entire spectrum European companies and research institutes, aided by national governments, pan-European agencies and the European Union strive to drive innovation forward and improve Europe’s global competitiveness. In recent years the mobile and wireless communications sector has emerged from the doldrums of the communications downturn and is now at the forefront of innovation and implementation.
The endeavour of Europe’s wireless equipment suppliers, mobile phone companies and content producers, along with the EU’s initiative to provide ‘always on’ connectivity for European citizens, has delivered the success of GSM and 3G systems. GSM/UMTS is evolving to an advanced 4G system and the development of mobile broadband wireless access is reaching a significant stage, while cognitive radio is edging further along the developmental path.
Away from the telecommunications market, important technology is being developed, such as RF/microwave high power amplifiers, including linearization techniques and signal sources. While wide band-gap semiconductors open up undreamed of possibilities for microwave power generation per unit device size, there is also an increasing interest in exploiting mm-wave frequencies from 60 GHz upwards. In the past, the advantages of lack of spectral congestion, large bandwidths and small antenna size have been negated by high component cost, including packaging. However, this is now being addressed by the rapid progress in the high frequency behaviour of deep sub-micron silicon-on-insulator technologies.
Another area of activity in Europe is the RF MEMS field, which is the subject of two ongoing 6th Framework Programme projects, AMICOM and INTEGRAMplus, which focuses on silicon-based MEMS components. A specific challenge is the integration of RF MEMS with modules and ICs with the ultimate goal being the single chip transceiver. With components on the market, in development and on their way to full production—cavity resonators and tunable capacitors are expected to reach this stage in 2008—RF MEMS is set to take off.
The high end automotive industry is a high profile contributor to the European economy and one that is prompting technological development in the RF and microwaves sector. Heightened concerns over traffic congestion, road safety and pollution are prompting the development of technology such as automotive radar systems at 77 GHz to provide driver assistance and the adoption of advanced traffic management systems.
Finally, a sector of the market that is doing better than it has for years is the satellite communication industry. With the support of national agencies and ESA satellite companies are addressing the fact that remote broadband, HDTV and increased wireless backhaul require more satellite bandwidth at a time when supply is more constrained.
When attempting to identify future trends, the wireless sector is probably the most unpredictable and where markets and are not always easy to interpret. For instance, the bare facts say that mobile phone subscriptions continue to grow. According to Informa the total number of mobile subscriptions has reached three billion worldwide but calculates that the actual number of users of mobile services is fewer than 2.3 billion. The truth is that the subscription growth being driven by the expansion of networks is coming from developing markets such as China, India and Eastern Europe, while growth in mature markets like Western Europe is being driven by multiple subscriptions.
The reality in Western Europe is that despite having achieved more than 100 per cent mobile penetration not many carriers have attained reasonable return on investment after spending billions of Euros in acquiring 3G spectrum and rolling out related networks. So, while in developing markets the fundamental requirement is for mobile to fulfill the basic need for voice and text based communications, in Western Europe the prevailing saturated voice market and various alternatives such as voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) are necessitating the search for new mobile applications and revenue streams that will generate greater income and sustain profitability.
Various next-generation mobile broadband technologies are in different stages of development and implementation, including emerging mobile radio techniques such as HSPA, 3GPP long-term Evolution (LTE), MIMO LTE and MIMO WiMAX. With many at a fairly embryonic stage it remains to be seen which will come to the fore and which might fall by the wayside.
Certainly, in the parts of Europe that are currently served by DSL or cable services WiMAX has the potential to extend the reach of high speed Internet access outside urban areas. As it allows roaming among base stations and has the capability to support fixed wireless applications mobile WiMAX, in particular, saw a flurry of activity towards the end of 2006 and into 2007. However, the cost of mobile WiMAX base stations and the number that will need to be deployed for extensive coverage are key considerations if it is to compete with existing networks such as 3G.
Wireless technologies are also gaining importance in the automotive industry where they are being deployed for safety and core vehicle telematics and infotainment. In Europe Bluetooth® is the established standard for wireless voice applications, but vehicle manufacturers are investigating other technologies. BMW has announced the likely introduction of WiFi technology into its premier models in 2008, Ultra Wideband (UWB) is also being considered, while the low power requirements of ZigBee make that an attractive option too.
ICs & Semiconductors
According to the spring 2007 forecast of the World Semiconductor Trade Statistics (WSTS), the global semiconductor market is expected to grow 2.3 percent on an annualized basis to $253.5 B in 2007. The figures are not remarkable, but the fact that European chipmakers are contributing significantly to this growth is. IC Insights’ August update to the 1H07 top 20 semiconductor supplier ranking has two European chip makers, STMicroelectronics and NXP (formerly Philips Semiconductor), in the top ten with Infineon Technologies just outside in twelfth.
That was not the case 10 years ago at the first EuMW. By that time many of the large number of European semiconductor manufacturers had folded due to inefficiency, overstaffing and, in some cases, lack of foresight. In fact, at one time there was the distinct possibility that Europe would abandon the high risk, high cost semiconductor industry altogether.
It did not, but instead has restructured and consolidated by focussing on its core competencies, concentrating on high end chips and developing integrated system-on-chip products that primarily went beyond computers into the telecommunications, automotive and digital electronics markets. An important role in the survival of the European semiconductor industry has been played by European Union activities such as MEDEA+ and the EU Framework Programmes as well as forward-looking industry initiatives such as the European Nanoelectronics Initiative Advisory Council (ENIAC).
Collaboration has been important too. It has been vital for European companies to form alliances with key players in the global market to share the costs and risks of designing new manufacturing processes. Also, as a large proportion of the $253.5 B global semiconductor market is outside of Europe, it has been essential to forge research and production partnerships and have a local presence in key developing markets such as China.
As for the technologies, in the compound semiconductor devices and ICs for microwave and mm-wave sector, GaAs is being challenged by Si-based and emerging high power technologies. Si-based technologies are coming to the fore in the automotive sector and in UWB development, III-V compound semiconductors are prominent in the defence domain, while gallium nitride is being developed for power applications.
However, while such technical innovations are creating new business opportunities, the reality is that continuous price pressure remains the dominating factor and market driver for microwave and mm-wave components and ICs.
One of the fundamental roles of government is to ensure the security of its citizens. And while individual governments address national and border security, on a European scale that responsibility falls to the European Union. In a constantly changing world it is only by co-operating and coordinating efforts on a Europe-wide scale that the EU can identify, understand and respond to threats.
Making Europe more secure for its citizens while increasing its industrial competitiveness is the goal of European Security Research and in response to increasing concerns, security research is now an integral part of the 7th RTD Framework Programme, with an average annual budget of €200 M.
The objective of the security theme is: to develop the technologies and knowledge for building capabilities needed to ensure the security of citizens from threats while respecting fundamental human rights; to ensure optimal and concerted use of available and evolving technologies to the benefit of civil European security; to stimulate the co-operation of providers and users for civil security solutions; to improve the competitiveness of the European security industry and to deliver mission-oriented results to reduce security gaps.
The European Security Research Advisory Board (ESRAB) advises the European Commission on how FP7 research should contribute efficiently to citizen’s security, particularly through the development and demonstration of new technologies. With its expertise and experience the microwave industry has a key role to play in the development and provision of such technology.
For instance, the increased interest in network-centric warfare (NCW) is likely to result in the growth of the European land-based Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, Reconnaissance (ISTAR) market with greater focus on the development of radar and sensor systems to provide network friendly solutions.
Indicators are that weapons locating radar (WLR) will remain key with remotely deployed and networked unattended ground sensors (UGS) systems gaining importance as part of larger networks of sensors. Alongside, WLR and battlefield surveillance radar (BFSR) are likely to be the main beneficiaries of the latest NATO Response Force (NRF) and the European Union’s Battle Group (EUBG) initiatives.
The command and control (C2) market is interesting too. Although dominated by the large European military spenders such as France and the UK, with smaller but significant programmes in Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Italy and Greece, new Eastern European NATO allies have moderate C2 programmes. As these countries often have limited technical expertise lucrative opportunities could arise for Western European companies through partnering with local defence contractors.
Overviews and Surveys
Political, economic and commercial influences all impact on the performance and development of the microwave industry. These are fluid and the European Perspective can only hope to be a barometer of the current conditions. To gain a focused insight the author has sought the views of the academic and industrial and taken European Microwave Week as its platform. The EuMW chairman offers a sector wide overview while the chairmen of the four individual conferences concentrate specifically on their market sectors. They consider how technology is developing and the long-term impact it is likely to have, while giving a perspective of how the sector fits into the overall microwave picture.
Complementary to that is the commercial and industrial view given by the company executives canvassed for the ‘company survey’. Representing a cross-section of the European microwave industry in terms of size of operation and 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.
Reflecting the global nature of the industry this report offers a ‘wider’ perspective. International players spanning the geographical and technological development spectrum proffer opinions on the practicalities, barriers and benefits of competing in the European Microwave market, in the ‘international perspective’.
Microwave industry overview by EuMW General Chairman, Heinrich Wolfgang
RF and microwave engineers in universities, research organizations and industry continually endeavour to implement new initiatives and develop technology. Annually, in Europe, there is the opportunity to gauge the strength and depth of those efforts when European Microwave Week showcases the very latest activities in both the academic and the industrial world.
For three years now the number of paper submissions to EuMW has exceeded the 1000 mark, with a wide international representation. This year, after the host country, Germany, the most paper submissions are from France, closely followed by South Korea and the US, with the UK, Italy and Japan making significant contributions as well. This broad distribution demonstrates the globalisation of our field and the importance of embracing new ideas, technological development and market innovation from all quarters. As well as quantity there must be excellence and EuMW 2007 has striven to offer high quality and stimulating papers, covering the complete field of wireless technology, microwaves, and radar, with a good balance between academic and industrial contributions. The conferences always give an indication of which are the popular areas of research as well as which are the burning issues in industry, while the interest in the European Microwave Exhibition is a measure of the economic situation. This year it has attracted more exhibitors and takes up more square metreage than ever before, which supports the observation that the European microwave industry has continued to consolidate and is now on a stable economical upturn.
So, what are the key factors that are fuelling this upturn? The individual conference chairmen will provide in-depth answers with regard to the activity in their specific field later in this report. However, I shall briefly identify the main industry-wide trends. What is clear is that the hot topics in research in Europe mirror those worldwide. Interestingly, power amplifiers and the corresponding linearization techniques continue to be most popular in terms of paper submissions. Besides this, work on silicon-based circuits, particularly CMOS, continues to grow. Finally, tunable components and multi-band devices should be mentioned, which are being developed for different fields of application, particularly with regards to the need for reconfigurable components, which enable multi-standard and multi-band wireless systems.
RF and Microwaves
Sector overview by EuMC Chairman, Professor Rolf Jakoby
The RF and microwave sector is currently developing strongly worldwide and in Europe, driven by both commercial and security/defence applications, where mobile and wireless communications are the key drivers. Europe is at the forefront of the mobile and wireless communications sector, boasting many of the world’s largest equipment suppliers, mobile phone companies and mobile content producers. This is no accident, but the result of a coordinated European Union effort by the European Commission, national governments and industry as well as the result of the EU’s future vision of ‘ambient intelligence’ featuring ‘always-on’ connectivity for European citizens.
The basis for Europe’s success is GSM and 3G systems such as UMTS, where enhanced UMTS-TDD competes directly with WiMAX (long range system) and WiFi (shorter range system). Both aim to offer DSL-class Internet access in addition to phone services. GSM/UMTS is evolving to an advanced 4G system, the 3GPP LTE effort is aiming for high bandwidth, low latency, all-IP networks with voice services built on top. In addition, Mobile Broadband Wireless Access technology is being developed for operations from 120 to 350 km/h. All this will ensure Europe’s global competitiveness, boosting economic growth and ensuring sustainable prosperity.
Europe is also well placed in satellite communication systems, where it is home to three of the five largest operators in the world. These provide global telecommunications, television broadcasting, data and mobile services. Satellite technology has been strongly supported through national agencies and the European Space Agency. Perhaps the best known program is Galileo, the global navigation infrastructure system.
Of key strategic importance to Europe’s economy is the high end automotive sector. There is continuing interest in automotive radar systems at 77 GHz. At much higher frequencies, there are intriguing signs that the upper mm-wave and THz region, long unexploited, is beginning to open up entirely new markets and opportunities.
European industry is also the world leader in micro-systems and related advanced technologies, with nano-system development another key target. So too are distributed wireless sensors integrating many novel sensor technologies and addressing various applications ranging from RFID, climate monitoring, security and biomedical systems.
Challenges facing the industry include coping with the competing demands of linearity, power and spectrum efficiency in emerging radio systems. Also tunability and reconfigurability, so natural at the digital level, will be required in future at the level of the RF transceiver (front end), in order to achieve cost-effective frequency-agile, multi-band, multi-access radios, RF-beamforming antenna configurations, RF sensors or RFIDs in the microwave and mm-wave region. Another future goal is ‘cognitive radio’ that can sense its environment and intelligently adapt itself to meet user needs optimally.
A sticking point is the availability of ‘compact’ tunable or switchable microwave components that have high performance at a cost that is attractive for low and high volume production. Besides RF MEMS or semiconductor devices such as varactors or CMOS silicon-on-sapphire RF switches, emerging tunable passives based on ferroelectric thin and thick films or liquid crystal cavities might play a part in the future.
Overall, I believe the RF and microwave sector is exciting, growing and has mainstream strategic importance with excellent future prospects.
As a long established manufacturer of waveguide technology-based products the company’s main activities can be split into three distinct areas. The first is the manufacture of lightweight high performance waveguide assemblies for the payload satellite industry. These products are configured from ultra thin-wall aluminum; silver plated, and are qualified and tested to achieve excellent microwave and passive intermodulations (PIM) performance.
Second come high power multi-channel rotary joints, primarily for use in the naval and ATC radar markets. Having acquired the intellectual property as part of an acquisition from EEV in 1999, the manufacturing and design processes and features have now been modernised to represent state-of-the-art rotary joint manufacture.
The third product area is the company’s traditional business of waveguide-based components, ranging from basic hardware such as waveguide bends, straights, flexible waveguides, etc., through to high power waveguide loads, couplers, transitions and subsystems.
Each of these three product groups is developing new technology. The rotary joint’s dominant new technology is the use of fibre optic brush block slip ring assemblies for the transmission of relatively high power data traffic to support active phased-array radar customers.
The main development in the microwave components group is the increasing of power handling and frequency coverage of high power loads using new technologies such as silicon carbide and rubber fillers, allowing ever increasing high temperature operations. Another exciting opportunity in this area is the low cost rubber-based load elements, which can be successfully moulded and sold into the small boat radar and high volume microwave radio markets.
Asked to identify key changes influential in the industry, Nigel Bowes, sales and marketing director, commented, “The biggest change in the marketplace over the last 10 years has unquestionably been the desire of customers to have more depth in their supply of hardware products. The major prime contractors have recognised the need for long-term partnership arrangements, particularly in the military area, where the long-term through-life support is a key success measure for their prime contractorship.
“Therefore there is an obvious logic to collect together a number of products purchased from three of four different suppliers into a single supplier, in order that the placing of continuing business is collective. Credowan recognised this back in the 1990s and joined the Cobham Group precisely to offer a wide range of technologies and products to the ever decreasing number of European prime contractors.”
While the company’s prime business still remains the UK’s domestic space and defence market it has expanded its horizons and over the last year has secured contracts in Canada, Spain, France, Germany and Sweden. Generally speaking Europe remains the company’s prime target, while consolidation of its primacy in its chosen market areas remains a priority.
Bowes considers the major driving force in the defence industry to unquestionably be the sustainability of current platforms and through-life support. He explains, “Our major prime contractors are certainly very focused on long-term supplier relationships and an open partnership policy. The communications market is now maturing fast, with I believe, an increasing acceptance that the Far East will offer the prime manufacturing base for most microwave radio and RF communication platforms.”
Credowan is focused on supporting the radar market, both defence and ATC—at original manufacturing level and supporting direct end users such as services, shipyards and airports. Bowes proffers, “It is my personal belief that the increasing use of precise and versatile sensor systems throughout the radar industry will sustain that sector of our microwave industry for the foreseeable future.”
As far as the future is concerned Bowes believes that the development of long-term relationships more than technologies will drive the industry. He elaborates, “Small has been beautiful over the last decade, where price and speed of response were key, small companies have thrived. The prime contractors however have now recognised the need for long-term sustainable relationships. They are looking less at short-term performance and more at long-term stability; both technological and financial.
“I believe that this is an era for consolidation in the component industry, which will mirror the consolidation in the prime contractor industry over the last 10 to 15 years.
The microwave companies that will be successful in the future will be those who listen closely to their customer’s needs, stay closely in touch with technological changes and are flexible enough to meet those needs time after time.”
From its early beginnings as a manufacturer of coaxial plugs for television in the early 1950s the company has continuously broadened its range of coaxial products. Its core competency is the manufacture of coaxial parts using technologies such as machining and metal stamping, while its other activities in the RF and microwave field are cable assemblies, PTFE-wrapped cable, mechanical switches, passive components and military antennas.
Currently the company is focusing its R&D on several technologies to meet short-term applications demanded by the market. These include the metal stamping of coaxial connectors to meet the needs of the automotive industry in terms of production capacity and yield, reliability and price. In particular the company has developed a system for fully stamped coaxial connectors whereby the machine crimps both the centre conductor and the braid of the coaxial cable on the connector in one single operation, thus enabling very high production capacity.
Plating is another technology in which Radiall is investing. The company is looking into alternative plating to reduce the cost of plating for telecom applications where price reduction is a driving factor. It is also investigating the corrosion resistance of RoHS-compliant plating to replace non-RoHS plating with chrome or cadmium on coaxial connectors used in military applications, which poses a difficult challenge.
For coaxial connectors, the impact of the increase in raw material prices is a major factor, especially for brass. In order to become less affected by price fluctuations, plastic overmoulding technology is being used to replace brass in connectors with non- conductive parts. There is also a focus on products such as lightweight coaxial cable and connectors and smaller dimension antennas for vehicular applications.
The company sees emerging technologies and trends in the aeronautical field as being significant. In civil aeronautics engine manufacturers are developing new engines with less pollution and lower fuel per mileage ratio, so the RF and microwave industry has to follow suit and develop lightweight products. Such products include lightweight Teflon wrapped armoured coaxial cables and lightweight coaxial connectors using aluminum and composite. In wireless communications, fibre optics is playing a role, particularly in the base station, where ‘RF type’ fibre optic connectors with two or four fibres assembled into a RF N-connector body are significant.
Radiall is well established in Europe. Eighty percent of its sales are made outside its native France and it needs to balance its industrial presence in all continents because of the strong Euro. The acquisition of Applied Engineering Products Inc. in 2005 was significant in the company’s expansion in North America and in order to increase its competitiveness the company is looking to expand its production capacity in Mexico.
The company also continues to grow market share in Asia with the help of its manufacturing units in Shanghai, China and Bangalore, India. However, it has two specific issues as far as Asia is concerned. First, the booming economy means that it is difficult for the company to retain highly skilled employees once it has trained them. The second is related to intellectual property protection and the lack of political action with regards to the flouting of connector patents.
Radiall sees defence (including military aircraft) and security as the most demanding market segments for product development. Military radio communications and jamming equipment against improvised explosive devices (IED) are fuelling the demand for new connectors, cable assemblies and antennas. So do array antennas for small high frequency, high density coaxial connectors.
Also, telecom wireless is still strong in underdeveloped countries like India where BTS installation programs are scheduled to run for several years, prompting RF and microwave companies like Radiall, serving this sector to invest in the country.
The company is primarily a supplier of wafer-level test systems (probers), RF/microwave probes and wafer-level RF/microwave calibration software. In addition, it also provides consultation services, assisting customers in choosing and configuring the wafer-level test systems that suit their application. This also includes working with measurement equipment manufacturers to make sure that the test engineer gets a complete solution.
Currently the company is developing new |Z| Probes (RF wafer probes) for higher frequencies and power as well as expanding the functionality of the SussCal calibration software. As its customers design and produce RF semiconductor devices that use higher frequencies and power, the company endeavours to satisfy their demands to be able to test these advanced devices on-wafer for model verification and improvement. Furthermore, more customers are using RF techniques for traditionally DC measurements such as C-V. They need simple tools that allow them to calibrate their measurement system simply and accurately.
As consumers demand more advanced and less power-hungry devices and the ability to be connected just about anywhere, the company sees differential and multiport device designs becoming more commonplace. The company’s marketing group manager, Joshua Preston, explains, “Several years ago, most people would never have thought about using an eight-port measurement system but as world phones, more energy efficient wireless devices and new services like WiMAX and 4G become established, the need for such test equipment and software is becoming acuter.”
SUSS is based in Europe but through its network of sales and service centres it aims to be a local company regardless of the customers’ geographical location. However, it is working hard to gain a higher profile, especially in Asia, which is strategically important as a growing market with significant potential. To address this, the company opened an Applications and Measurement Centre in Singapore earlier this year.
With regards to influences on technology, Preston states, “We think that the consumer is taking a greater role in driving the industry to new technologies. As consumers, we all want to be more connected with the world and to have more information at our fingertips. And as more of the developing world gets access to these technologies, we will certainly see the consumer taking over the driver’s seat.”
He also sees new wireless technologies and interconnectivity coming to the fore and explains, “As consumers demand richer and more content, faster performance and more efficiency, the RF and microwave industry will have to respond with newer, more efficient designs that use higher bandwidths. Interconnectivity, that is, the ability of different devices to ‘speak’ to each other, will also fuel growth. We have already witnessed the power of interconnectivity through the Internet, and that concept will in time transfer to new devices that have wireless connectivity so that they are connected to one another in ways that we wouldn’t think of today.”
Sector overview by ECWT Chairman, Robert Weigel
Wireless technology was once synonymous with mobile phone systems but has developed much further in recent years, as the 2007 European Conference of Wireless Technology (ECWT) testifies. Advances in technology for the phone industry are the enabling force behind many innovations in communications using microwave and mm-wave signals, but applications in the local positioning sector or promising emerging wireless transmission techniques such as UWB are also driving innovation.
Submission to the ECWT technical programme committee closely mirrors industrial and academic research and development efforts in the wireless technology arena, including emerging mobile radio techniques and technologies such as HSPA, 3GPP LTE, MIMO LTE and MIMO WiMAX. In the future we will have to cover up to 25 frequency bands with a mixture of narrow and wide bandwidths. Thus, highly flexible and reconfigurable hardware architectures are greatly needed, both in the baseband, where the research trends are moving from ASICS towards superprogrammable baseband processors (SBP), and in the RF front end, where frequency agile (tunable, switchable) solutions are becoming indispensable.
Besides reconfigurability of architectures and circuit blocks, higher modulation formats such as 64/128 QAM have to be implemented on the system level. At the signal path level, the growing trade-off between selectivity and sensitivity (linearity) has to be addressed. Here, high dynamic range RF signal processing incorporating mixed-signal systems and calibration loops is needed.
At the technology level, new RF and analogue circuit architectures fabricated from 65 and 45 nm CMOS technologies and RF capable CMOS and Si-based integrated technologies are required for the terminal side. With regards to base stations, RF power and its transmission is the main topic. Here, the research trends are towards new power amplifier semiconductor technologies such as GaN for Class S PAs and new smart passive technologies based on functional materials such as metamaterials, ferroelectrics and piezoelectrics.
The whole range of wireless communication is in the ECWT’s focus, from the antenna and reconfigurable front-end devices, through signal processing architectures for wireless applications, to modelling or coding techniques. As has been mentioned UWB is a major topic. Another big subject area relates to antennas, UWB antennas, patch antennas, beam steering concepts, size reduction and special design and construction technologies.
Systems-on-chip, radio architectures and channel investigations are subjects of development, while other growing areas of interest include indoor and outdoor positioning technologies and cognitive or software defined radio.
Now fully integrated as part of Smiths Group, Farran Technology has over 25 years experience in millimetre-wave and submillimetre-wave technologies. The company can design, prototype and manufacture MMIC-based multi-chip modules for 10 to 320 GHz to customer requirements. It is established in Europe and the US and is intent on growing its business in Asia, where there is significant R&D activity at mm-wave frequencies, including plasma and medical applications.
David Gibbons, managing director at Farran, forecasts wireless technologies as the sector where much attention will be focussed going forward. In particular, he predicts that cellular telephony and data link infrastructure in addition to terrestrial satellite communication systems and mm-wave ground-based communications will see significant growth for mm-wave systems.
Since mobile connectivity is a technology driver, this will see a need for higher bandwidth to extend beyond 100 GHz. This is a prerequisite for video and high definition TV availability via combined broadband access and Gibbons states that the company is well placed to provide products for these new applications.
He also notes that the emerging demand for passive imaging technologies in the security market is driving new developments at the 150 GHz frequency and beyond. Farran has developed low cost advanced amplifier designs and arrays that result in superior resolution for a given aperture size specifically for this market segment.
Gibbons sees that concomitant demand for power will drive increased developments in new semiconductor technology areas such as gallium nitride, while demand for miniaturised devices and more efficient packaging will encourage the use of mm-wave MEMS.
Emerging spectroscopic applications will require sensitive THz-based systems, and thus developments in new quantum sources and detectors will become important. As imaging sensors lower in cost, the deployment of electronically scanned systems in security, satellite systems and a host of civil applications will increase.
Achieving higher frequencies and greater bandwidth will be future goals according to Farran, particularly, very high bandwidth (> 60 GHz) for media data distribution and components in the 150 GHz region for security imaging technologies with higher response speeds and resolution for stand off applications.
Founded in 1992, IMST is an independent and private research and development company. Its main activities are the design and development of wireless radio communication components, sub-systems and complete systems, which are based on integrated circuits on silicon, SiGe, III-V or IV-VI compound semiconductors. Microwave and mm-wave modules are integrated and packaged using hybrid and LTCC technologies, where LTCC offers the possibility to integrate antennas and their feed networks in various constructions and a three-dimensional technique into the circuit design.
The company develops antennas for wireless communications, multi-band and wideband antennas for mobile terminals, planar antennas for sensors and radar applications, active phased arrays and electronic beam steering antennas for satellite communications. Its development work spans all current wireless communication standards from GSM to HSxPA, WiMAX, 802.11x (a,g,n,p), UWB, GPS/GALILEO, ZigBee and Bluetooth.
This broad area of expertise means that IMST is developing technologies for various applications, including emerging technologies for wireless indoor communication and the application of MIMO concepts in particular. Also under investigation is the application of wireless technologies in car-to-car communication, automotive security and driver assistance systems incorporating intelligent radar sensors at millimetre-wave frequencies.
Other areas of interest include smart antenna solutions for local multimedia data stream distribution, new concepts for electronically steerable antennas for satellite communication and the development of wireless sensor networks, especially for industrial automation, where broadband (UWB) solutions are being considered
As cellular networks continue to evolve from WCDMA/UMTS towards HSxPA and LTE, IMST sees interest growing in WiMAX, which while still under development is being stimulated by the current roll out of backhaul components. The company also sees WLAN technology evolving from 802.11a/b/g towards high data rate systems such as 802.11n, as well as towards high dynamic networking protocols for vehicular communications like in 802.11p, with standards exceeding the current frequency bands and exploring the 60 GHz band for indoor or intra-vehicular communications.
Although IMST is active in almost all relevant worldwide markets such as Japan, China, India, USA and Canada, the major portion of its business is in Europe, where there is demand for novel and innovative solutions for future wireless radio applications to keep Europe at the leading-edge in technology deployment and utilization. Outside Europe, India and China are seen as growth markets, which the company is targeting for expansion through partnerships with companies and institutions.
Standardization has a very important role in communication, according to IMST. For example, the worldwide regulation for 802.11x and WiMAX has fuelled the potential growth of these technologies. Considering not only today’s frequencies at 2.7 GHz and 3.5 GHz, but also those above 10 GHz, the standardization of WiMAX could become the key factor for deployment not only as a simple DSL-like access technology but also for standardizing the backhaul of cellular networks. Standardization, of course, leads to more competition, making access cheaper and more widely available.
As for the future, IMST believes that a major factor that will fuel the wireless industry is the trend for more individualism, more media sovereignty (on TV, video, audio broadcasting and internet) and unified access capabilities, which will all require larger transmission rates and more efficient frequency bandwidth utilization. The desire for increased mobile content means that current cellular phone systems must be developed to higher transmission data rates, higher frequencies and be user friendly. This can be achieved through the long-term evolution of the available networks, with the progression of software defined radio techniques and other new developments on the physical layer being urgently needed.
Also, IMST envisages mobile satellite communication changing from a niche market to a high penetration market offering data and voice services inside planes, ships, trains and cars, which will push the production of satellite terminals to much higher volumes.
ICs & Semiconductors
Sector overview by EuMIC Chairman, Klaus Beilenhoff
Compound semiconductor devices and ICs are building the core of today’s microwave and mm-wave subsystems. Whereas in the past GaAs was viewed as the workhorse for many applications ranging from telecommunication to defence, Si-based and new emerging high power technologies are gaining ground and attempting to take market share. However, this statement needs to be quantified for the individual microwave and mm-wave markets.
The GaAs semiconductor industry remains the main supplier of active components and ICs for the wireless telecommunications market. However, business conditions are tough and the industry is still suffering from a volatile market after the telecom crisis in 2000/2001. Consolidations (for example, Nokia/Siemens, Alcatel/Lucent) driven by cost reduction plans are demonstrating the continuous price pressure faced by the market. The component and MMIC manufacturers are also in a difficult situation since the worldwide capacity for manufacturing III-V compound semiconductors is higher than the demand, creating additional price pressures.
It is not only price that is driving the telecom market. Technical innovations have led to new challenges too. Mark Murphy from NXP, one of the keynote speakers in this year’s EuMIC, mentions in his presentation abstract: “The cellular wireless (base station) industry is at a key phase in its evolution path from today’s third-generation systems towards next generation (4G) systems. New technologies are required to achieve data throughputs in excess of 100 Mbps.” Ultra Wideband technology is another area of technical innovation. Although invented in 1950 it is still on its way to becoming a standard but more and more component and IC designs for this market are appearing, mainly based on Si-based technologies.
The market for III-V compound semiconductors in the defence domain is increasing following the start of real volume production of modern active phased-array radar technology in Europe. However, the price pressure seen by the telecom market is also appearing in the defence domain and, thus, there is a trend towards the use of commercially available products and technologies (COTS). Nevertheless, the speed of innovation exhibited by commercial markets is often a stumbling block for utilising such products in long-term defence programmes.
There is also a strong market increase in the automotive sector. The 77 GHz radars used for adaptive cruise control are still important, but the emerging 24 GHz short-range radar applications have taken the lead. This can mainly be attributed to the fact that new safety features can be introduced leading to better market acceptance. Due to the high number of microwave systems forecast and the good history of Si-based components and ICs, the Si-based technologies (SiGe, CMOS, BiCMOS, etc.) are constantly attempting to enter these emerging 24 and 77 GHz markets. However, GaAs can still compete and is the benchmark in terms of performance.
As was mentioned, the typical GaAs market is facing competition in the low frequency and low power domain from Si-based components and ICs. The rising star for power applications is gallium nitride. Many semiconductor manufacturers are working on this new wide band gap material and aiming to get the first products to market, while research labs are still working on some fundamental questions. The pressure felt from the base station and defence markets is significant since gallium nitride makes it possible to achieve higher output powers over a wider frequency range at excellent power-added efficiency (PAE).
We are also seeing an increasing demand for packaging of monolithic microwave and mm-wave ICs (MMIC), in order to reduce module manufacturing costs by implementing SMD technologies for frequencies up to 30 to 40 GHz. Even beyond this limit, packaging becomes more and more important since the module manufacturing costs (die pick and place, soldering/gluing, bond wiring, module sealing) are tremendous especially for price sensitive markets.
The main activities of the company are the design and manufacture of GaAs PHEMT and InP HBT-based MMICs and associated fabrication and services (measurement, packaging, qualification, engineering, etc.) of MMICs, as well the supply of epitaxial wafers to the merchant market.
Current developments include enhancement mode 100 nm, 150 GHz MHEMT technology for next generation intelligent antennas that exhibit lower noise, lower power consumption, smaller size RF functions and higher density lower power consumption digital functions. Add to that 300 GHz, 70 nm MHEMT technology for security type applications (passive imaging) at high millimetre-wave frequencies and fully integrated RF MEMS for phased-array antennas, adaptive matching and redundancy switching.
OMMIC has a well established customer base in Europe and, for a number of years, has been developing its presence in Asia and India where the company has a number of important customers and contracts. Asia, in particular, is a large and dynamic market susceptible to value added technologies.
In general the III-V business has been driven by the military or handset requirements giving rise to two very different types of suppliers. However, OMMIC has been able to span both markets, maintain a customer base spread over the communications, space, security and defence markets, and developed products that cross these boundaries.
Being in the foundry business and a manufacturer of semiconductors means that environmental issues are very important to the company, not only from a legislative viewpoint but there is also a growing customer requirement to respect the environment. This is viewed as positive, leading to better operation of the Fab, the use of fewer materials and the reduction of energy consumption.
Looking forward the belief is that each application will drive or be driven by its own unique set of technologies and standards. For example, GaN will be important for the defence industry, but its role in other applications will depend on new standards with higher frequencies. Otherwise LDMOS will maintain its dominance in these markets.
Also, OMMIC foresees that the growth of the security market will foster the development of advanced short gate length high In content HEMT technologies, such as the 70 nm MHEMT process where the combination of a robust technology, high performance and high yield opens up a much wider market for passive imaging systems.
As one of the largest independent thin film manufacturers in the world, the leading one in Europe and a key supplier to the US market, the company manufactures customized thin film substrates and passive MEMS for RF, opto-electronic, medical and micro-electronic applications.
Currently, technological development is concentrated on thermal heat sinking, high density packaging and assembly, which focus on the miniaturization of microelectronics components. Emerging technologies that impact on this market are design to assembly and testing, together with packaging and stacking technologies.
In its field Reinhardt identifies the key players as the military (radars), security (sensors) and telecommunication. It does not see the situation changing dramatically except that it expects telecommunications to take a more prominent position driven by a fairly stable world economic situation.
The company believes that globalisation will lead more and more to standardization, running in parallel with the harmonization between the fields of application. It accepts that this will create additional work, but will result in greater interchangeability. Conversely, Reinhardt sees other issues as being detrimental to market development, for example, the US ITAR restrictions, which it believes is closing most of the US military markets to European companies.
As for the future, the company identifies three distinct areas as driving the markets in the thin film business—multimedia applications demanding larger bandwidths in the telecommunications sector, mm-wave-based sensor technology for security industries and adapted phased-array radar technology for the military sector.
Sector overview by EuRAD Chairman, Jürgen Detlefsen
The European Radar Conference was established in 2004. Since then it has established itself towards the top of the hierarchy of international radar conferences and as such offers an insight into the breadth and depth of current developments in the field of radar and a barometer of the most recent advances. Within the context of European Microwave Week, EuRAD is particularly useful for evaluating the latest developments within the context of all the other activities in the microwave community.
Looking at this year’s conference, it is no surprise to discover that common trends such as UWB, MIMO, and Dual Use are impacting on the world of radar applications. They demonstrate, together with the ability to take advantage of low cost microwave components and to design low power, solid state radar sensors, the convergence of communications techniques, and technologies and radar. On a system level this trend is emphasized within the conference by a focussed session on Communication by Radar.
The conference contributions reflect the current trends and activities within the industry and cover a wide range of topics from broadband radar, passive radar to sophisticated radar signal and data processing, including STAP. Significant too are SAR techniques, SAR interferometry and imaging, both from a scientific as well as from an applications related viewpoint. The origin of contributions demonstrates a thriving European radar community, with contributions from the Newly Independent States being particularly significant.
At the high frequency end of the spectrum there is increasing interest in exploiting mm-wave frequencies from 60 GHz upwards, helped by significant progress in the high frequency behaviour of deep sub-micron silicon-on-insulator technologies. The development and adoption of automotive radar systems at 77 GHz are impacting on the high-end automotive sector. It is of key strategic importance to Europe’s economy and there is continuing interest in automotive radar systems. The aim is to provide further driver assistance functions which are capable of reducing road injuries and fatalities.
A rapidly growing area of research and development is related to imaging for security, using active and passive millimetre-wave techniques. The efforts of the European Union within the Seventh Framework Programme, which devotes a complete topic to security, will also advance the application of radar sensors. Increasing the security of citizens, of infrastructures and utilities, realising intelligent surveillance and enhancing border security are fields where radar can be successfully applied. Even at much higher frequencies, there are intriguing signs in Europe that the application of terahertz technologies is beginning to open up new markets and opportunities.
Also, the concern about the environment has led to significant research into radar remote sensing of the atmosphere from space, airborne and land-based platforms. An important milestone was the launch of TerraSAR-X in June 2007, a new German high resolution radar satellite with an X-band SAR sensor that can be operated in different modes (resolutions) and polarizations. The mission objective is the provision of high quality, multi-mode X-band SAR data for scientific and commercial applications. A future extension will be the TanDEM-X mission, which will comprise two fully active SAR satellites operating in X-band. The primary goal of this mission is the derivation of a high precision global Digital Elevation Model (DEM).
With the launch of TerraSAR-X, 2 SAR-Lupe satellites, Cosmo-Skymed by the Italian Space Agency and the start of the development of Sentinel-1 by the European Space Agency, Europe is entering into a new era with several high resolution SAR satellites and therefore, expanding its leading role in the technologies and applications of radar remote sensing for earth observation.
With radar applications being a specific focus the company has expertise in the design and production of passive RF components such as waveguides, circulators, loads, isolators, couplers, phase shifters, thin film substrates and hybrids. The areas of application range from milliwatts for the thin film technology up to kilowatts or even megawatts for coaxial or waveguide applications. Nowadays, both these approaches have a role to play in radar applications as distributed low power RF systems or high power sources can be distributed to the radiating elements.
To achieve a high integration and light weight, thin film becomes a part of the housing itself. Therefore, the company has been working to develop technologies that achieve hermetically sealed housings with integrated circuitry serving as package and carrier for the active components. It is also striving to address the growing demand for low loss drop in circulators/isolators in order to improve output power and noise figure of the Rx/Tx systems.
In the field of scientific particle acceleration AFT Microwave serves the worldwide market for high power circulators and isolators. This expertise in high power RF components (up to 65 MW peak or 1.3 MW CW) serves the growing demands from radar applications, mainly driven by solid state components.
The company identifies the defence and security sectors as being major driving forces. It sees the growing market addressing military applications resulting from homeland security and new technology in the ECM and radar area as fuelling the need for high quality and low cost products for a new generation of systems. The company believes that due to reduced costs a better market acceptance can be achieved leading to an increased volume of sales of systems and, therefore, also components.
e2v manufactures a broad range of products used in the transmit and receive sections of microwave radar systems used in defensive and commercial ground, sea and airborne radar systems as well as radar systems used as part of automotive adaptive cruise control (ACC) systems.
Almost all of the vital building blocks needed in a radar system are designed and manufactured by e2v, starting at S-band and going through to W-band. The company is unusual in that it is involved with technology starting at semiconductor level right through to the initial stages of signal processing in a radar system. Products include travelling wave tubes (TWT), high reliability microprocessors, magnetrons, thyratrons, compact modulators, G3 diodes, microwave receiver protection and microwave receivers.
The company sees a trend to move away from traditional Doppler radars particularly at the low cost end of the market, and is therefore developing new all solid state coherent radars, which will be able to offer the required performance, particularly in marine applications.
It is continuing to develop radars operating at mm-wave frequencies, particularly at 77 GHz. For example, it is a member of a consortium that has just been awarded funding from a recent DTI Technology initiative. This is to develop a new radar system, which will be used in security applications and will be capable of detecting unauthorised movement in large enclosed areas such as airfields.
Focussing on emerging technologies that are of significance to e2v, Nigel Priestley, chief engineer at e2v’s Lincoln facility, commented, “Semiconductor technology is a very important area to us; in particular the increasing use of high power wide band-gap devices for higher power amplification. Novel antenna structures using microfabrication techniques and MEMS are also likely to have a major impact.”
As for the development of technology, Priestley states, “The microwave industry is entering a period where the pace of innovation needs to accelerate. With a few notable exceptions, for example the Eurofighter Typhoon, there has been a slow down in the development of new designs and technology advancement following the end of the Cold War and a delay in some major defence programmes—now there is a need to recover the lost ground.”
Priestley sees environmental, standardisation and political factors impacting on manufacturing methods and comments, “This has driven the use of new materials to comply with new stringent environmental standards. The regulatory groups for example, ETSI and FCC, have a major bearing on the design and performance of new component and sub-system design. On a political front, the trend for European manufacturers to make increasing use of lower cost economies for volume manufacture is more important now then ever before.”
As for the future, he believes the next few years will see the introduction of technologies which will make radars smaller, lower cost and easier to build as a working system. From semiconductor (and tube) level upwards there will be a faster rate of progress. He sees radar being accepted in other markets, outside of the traditional defence and aerospace sectors, as an affordable and highly capable sensor technology—a situation that is beginning to be recognised.
MESL Microwave (formerly Thales MESL) designs and manufactures active and passive microwave sub-systems and components. It was one of the first companies to supply surface acoustic wave pulse compression sub-systems to European radar manufacturers and has a long history of supplying waveguide components such as duplexers and ferrite phase shifters for radar antennas. With the advent of the active array the company developed a range of package drop-in and microstrip circulators for duplexing on Tx/Rx modules and has a first-class capability in microwave module design and assembly.
The telecoms market drives many of the new developments in MESL Microwave, but there are areas in the defence market that the company is specifically developing new technologies for. Developments in conformal arrays and broadband multi-function active arrays, is prompting the company to look at the products required to realize these emerging technologies, for example: lightweight, packaged broadband circulators and isolators. Module manufacturers are looking for all components on a MIC module to be surface mountable and MESL is addressing this by developing more surface-mount solutions such as a new range of surface-mount duplexer designs to address customers requirements for reflow processing. The company is also looking at novel packaging approaches to reduce the footprint and mass of circulators.
The company is active in MIC module design in Ku- and Ka-band, but the increase in applications operating in the 60 to 100 GHz range means it will focus more development activity on components and modules in this market in the future. For example, the company has recently evolved its packaging solutions for 77 GHz modules.
MESL Microwave’s separation from Thales creates new opportunities for the company. Previously as part of Thales it had been viewed as part of a group that competes with the companies that MESL was trying to sell to. With divestment from Thales such barriers have been removed and it can look forward to increased involvement with the major defence OEMs.
The company trades around the globe but India, the Far East and the US are areas it can foresee growth in. There are ITAR hurdles that make doing business in the US more challenging; nevertheless the company had some significant successes both in the defence and homeland security markets. There has been increased dialogue between the UK and the US to try and relax the export control rules between the countries and this is something the company is monitoring with interest since it could facilitate increased business in the US.
Looking to the future, MESL believes that as an independent company it is well positioned to address the requirements for low cost microwave sub-systems, Tx/Rx modules and components that defence OEMs will require to realize their vision of smaller, lighter, lower cost radars and seekers.
Those are the views of those from and operating in Europe. Are they shared by companies from outside the continent or do they have a different perspective with regards to doing business in Europe? To find out we took a small snapshot of companies from across the globe. It is not claimed to be a comprehensive survey, but is designed to give a flavour of how the European microwave industry and market is perceived worldwide. This report cannot comprehensively cover a large number of companies. However, it has canvassed companies in North America and Asia—Japan, Korea and Taiwan—to offer a contrast of established and evolving industries, household names and new market entrants.
Manufacturing at three ISO-certified facilities worldwide, the company supplies microwave/RF-based technology for the wireless infrastructure, satellite communications, medical, automotive, consumer products and defence sectors. Product lines include passives (couplers, power dividers, baluns, splitter/combiners), actives (vector modulators, mixers), resistive components (resistors, terminations, attenuators), ferrites (circulators, isolators) and complex assemblies (switch networks, beamformers, antenna feed networks, DRFMs, IMAs).
The company is currently focussed on technological development on four fronts. First among these are entirely new generations of surface-mount component lines aimed at wireless infrastructure targeting sizable gains in performance, size and price reductions, along with reduction of the bill of materials. Second, in the infrastructure sector, the emphasis is on custom solutions for a handful of key customers, including a unique approach to a high-power combiner for large European OEMs.
Third, based on size reductions and materials breakthroughs the company has made on the infrastructure side, Anaren is now carving out a niche in select wireless consumer electronics applications such as handsets, broadcast applications like HD set-top boxes, and some Bluetooth products, available in form factors as small as 1 x 1 mm. Lastly, the company plies its expertise with complex, high density microwave design to defence and space sector OEMs. Applications range from assisting on a DoD technology that detects wireless roadside explosives to satellite-based beamforming solutions.
“We continue to see solid demand for our technology in support of 2G systems worldwide, as well as an up tick in orders and design assistance relating to 3G infrastructure, which is finally gaining traction,” says Bo Jensen, business development manager for the company’s Wireless Unit, with regard to current market activity. “Beyond that, of course, there has been a significant amount of noise in the market related to WiMAX and similar systems; to that end, we’ve had significant design work going on and have developed components to support these opportunities.”
The company’s products and technologies are partly targeted at a handful of infrastructure OEMs, many of whom are based in Europe, but whose footprints and markets are truly global. Its efforts rely on close coordination with distribution partners and its own international technical sales offices. With both European-based technical sales offices and robust travel schedules for several of its top engineers, the company believes its European OEM customers are well served.
“Like most component suppliers, we are attuned to and proactively achieving compliance with important EU standards that may apply to us: the lead-free RoHS standard is an environmental example,” elaborates Jensen. “Beyond that—and being mindful of the fact that demand for higher data rates certainly exist in the EU compared to developing nations—our customers are generally not developing infrastructure totally unique to Europe, so we in turn are not typically charged with developing regionally distinct technology at our level.”
Moving on to the wider market he adds, “There is clearly a cyclical relationship between ‘market stimulation’ and technological advances. For example, as new manufacturing techniques, materials processes, or altogether new uses of materials enable us to support smaller, smarter and more cost-efficient base station equipment being developed, our customers can reduce operating costs and establish coverage where resources are not so readily available. In essence, the demand cycle has moved forward based on technology improvement.”
Focussing specifically on the European market, the company has seen consolidation among OEMs in Europe, and expects the resulting organizations to consolidate their supplier base in turn. As for forecasting overall demand for wireless services in Europe, Jensen notes that there is very high penetration in this market. As such, one might assume that unfailing system performance and ever-higher data rates will become increasingly ‘standard’, while differentiators such as new services, service bundling, or decreased prices to the consumer will increase as service providers battle for rare ‘new’ market share.
Mimix Broadband Inc.
The company designs, develops and supplies GaAs semiconductors from DC to 50 GHz for commercial and military applications. It uses its semiconductor design capabilities and systems level expertise to meet customer and market requirements for lower acquisition and assembly costs and is currently developing higher power/more linear power amplifiers and more highly integrated devices at higher frequencies in plastic QFN packaging.
Current market demands in wireless communications require that equipment suppliers lower costs and increase performance. In Mimix’ opinion, this trend forces design engineers to develop higher levels of product integration to meet these requirements, with the key being the integration of four functions or more into a single MMIC. Integration offers a number of benefits for millimetre-wave components, including lower costs and variability of transceivers from using fewer parts, a smaller footprint area and a simpler design. It also reduces the need for off-chip interstage matching between RF components.
Rick Montgomery, CEO of Mimix Broadband, comments, “In addition to the development of highly integrated devices, increasingly more microwave and millimetre-wave devices are being housed in standard QFN surface-mount packages. The continued growth in wireless communications has placed tremendous pressure on component manufacturers to provide standard QFN surface-mount packaged products for large scale PCB assembly flow, in order to lower costs and ease handling and assembly for mass production.”
In Europe the company is particularly active in Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Norway, Russia, Spain and Sweden, and does develop RF and microwave products specifically for European customers, in particular for the PTP radio market and wireless infrastructure market. In addition to catalogue products, it also offers custom designs that meet specific customers’ needs.
The company also believes that offering highly integrated devices, housed in plastic packages enhances the value proposition with respect to lowering cost, standardizing manufacturability, increasing reliability, reducing footprint area and simplifying design.
Mimix has been a pioneer in developing highly integrated devices, offering 3-Chip Solutions for several years now. Initially, customers had to be convinced, but in the last 12 months there has been a shift with customers now purchasing large volumes of integrated devices.
Montgomery explains, “A convergence of market imperatives is occurring, with the result being customers purchasing not only highly integrated devices, but those which are housed in standard QFN surface-mount packages. Now customers require only three to four packaged high frequency devices to complete an entire transceiver.”
Over the next few years, the company expects to see greater adoption of highly integrated and packaged devices across all applications and markets. This shift will be required to meet the price pressures and also the greater demands for reduced time to market in new product development cycles.
Hirai Seimitsu Kogyo
Established in 1967 the company provides high precision photo-etching including the fabrication of multi-layered LTCC substrates, precision photo etching of various metals and polyimide. It is also a world leader in the field of metal etching. Other capabilities include the plating of metals and other surface treatment along with mechanical forming such as NC machining, laser cutting, wire EDM, welding, thermally pressurized bonding and stamp forming. Specifically in the RF field the company provides in-house plated LTCC substrates for RF modules and lead frames for RF and/or RF power devices.
New technologies that Hirai SK is currently developing include: thin film metallization of the LTCC substrates for the higher Q at micro and millimetre-wave frequency bands and for finer pitch patterning, improvement of the metal paste printing, shape and materials for the higher Q or lower resistivity at mm-waves, and microwave sintering to reduce the costs of LTCC. The company also sees thin film metallization, artificial dielectric materials/nano technologies and frequency agile or tunable materials as being key issues impacting on development.
Hirai SK sees itself as having the traits of a typical Japanese company as it is good at precision handling, has high yield and quality, is traditionally good at ceramics fabrication, can carry out a large number of iterations to optimize processes and can ship samples quickly (generally within one week).
The intention is to capitalise on these qualities and its presence at the European Microwave Exhibition to establish itself in Europe. Target countries are broad, including Germany, UK, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Scandinavia.
Particular effort is going into providing a design library or RF design support for the LTCC foundry service and miniaturization of LTCC substrates, resulting in highly integrated modules as more multi-bands and multi-modes are required in Europe.
With regards to the future Hirai SK believes that in the field of low power, the integration to the chip will be enhanced and the chip will be mounted onto the motherboard directly, leading to a reduction in the number of modules, resulting in low output power. The company also envisages millimetre-wave applications developing with the emergence of CMOS devices, integrating the high speed basebands. As a result, higher Q and finer patterns may be required as the module substrates.
The development and manufacture of RF technology products are the company’s core activities and its product range includes RF coaxial connectors and adaptors in most of the standard worldwide standards—MMCX, MCX, SMA, N, 7-16, BNC, TNC, etc. In addition, it offers a range of RF/microwave components including filters, power splitters, couplers, attenuators, up/down conversion products, PLL and terminations. As well as standard products the company produces customise products to short time scales at competitive prices.
In the marketplace, Yeeun Tech is experiencing renewed growth in the telecommunications market. The WLAN repeater sector is particularly strong as is the deployment of WiMAX, where the company offers connectors, cable assemblies, terminations and attenuators.
Traditionally, the company is strong in the key Asian markets of Korea and Singapore and exports to the Middle East, North America and Europe. It is currently targeting new business in the UK and Germany and plans to establish a European branch in the UK. The aim is to give a company that is headquartered and manufacturing in Asia a greater local presence and therefore aid efficiency.
The company sees having the ability to satisfy quality and cost requirements as being paramount to continued growth in Europe, together with compliance with ‘local’ regulations. In particular, it ensures that all of its products meet RoHS requirements.
The future trends that Yeeun Tech identifies include the widespread adoption of WiMAX products and services in Europe, giving the end consumer another wireless option to explore, with high data rates of up to 65 Mbits/s at close range, to 16 Mbits/s at distances of around 9 to 10 km. It also predicts the continued growth of 3G telecommunications.
Daa-Sheen Technology Co. Ltd.
Since 1986 the company has been designing and manufacturing RF and microwave coaxial connectors and adaptors, including SMA, SMB, SMC, MMCX, MCX, N, BNC, TNC, FME, 7/16, 1.6/5.6, SMZ, SMP, MIMI UHF, VHF and CATV/satellite. As well as standard designs it also custom designs to customer requirements in all its fields of operation: telecommunication, military, aerospace, automotive and medical.
As a specialist in customised connectors and adaptors, Daa-Sheen is developing innovative manufacturing techniques. It is continually updating the processes and materials it uses, with every effort being made to keep up to date with the latest equipment and materials available.
The company is a global enterprise with customers in Australia, US, South America and Japan as well as Europe. In Europe, its main markets are Germany, Holland, the UK, France, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, Finland, Spain and Poland, but the company is currently in the process of talking to new customers in a number of European countries. It develops its products to meet the growing needs of customers, with particular emphasis on supplying customised parts.
When considering what the company brings to the European market it cites quality products, aligned with affordable, accurate, and reliable performance at a low price, aimed at giving its customers a competitive edge. One reason that this can be achieved is down to the flexibility of production management and the workforce in Taiwan, enabling the company to focus on the needs of its global customers, with their particular requirements.
With regards to the future, Daa-Sheen envisages closer trade relations between the East and West and technologically greater moves towards the miniaturization of components with more capacity and power.
This report began by recalling the first EuMW a decade ago, evaluated the status of the European microwaves industry at that time and outlined the key economic, political and commercial landmarks of the intervening 10 years. However, its aim is not to dwell on the past but to provide an insight into current activity, an understanding of the marketplace and identify the drivers taking the industry forward into the next decade and beyond.
What has emerged, particularly from the overviews and surveys, is optimism in the fact that the European microwave industry has continued to consolidate and is on a stable economic upturn. It should not be distracted by the general preoccupation with globalisation and the ‘threat’ posed by low cost mass production emanating from emerging markets, but concentrate on its own strengths. The European microwave industry’s core competencies of a highly skilled research and development capability and the production of added value products and services are valuable commodities to be exploited.
To do so on a pan-European scale requires long-term, forward thinking structured co-operation and coordination throughout the continent. Significant initiatives are in place and are bearing fruit. In particular, the European Union’s Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programmes are doing just what their title implies— identifying, promoting and stimulating competitiveness and innovation. The newly introduced 7th Framework Programme and the associated Networks of Excellence Programmes are specifically encouraging the involvement of industry alongside academia to address Europe’s traditional weakness in commercialising the results of research and identifying the market potential of new technology.
As well as the EU, the European Space Agency and the European Research Advisory Board are familiar agencies, but for almost all sectors of industry and research there are like bodies co-ordinating, sponsoring and financing technological development across Europe.
As this report testifies the depth and variety of the development work currently being undertaken in Europe is substantial, which does not make identifying future technological trends easy. However, in the RF and microwaves sector higher frequencies are being exploited with the upper mm-wave and terahertz region opening up new markets and opportunities. Wireless sensors integrating novel sensor technologies are finding applications ranging from RFID, climate monitoring and biomedical systems. Wireless communication is an area rife with innovation and the parallel development and long-term adoption of WiMAX and LTE is worth monitoring. Semiconductor technology is moving apace with Si-based components and ICs providing competition to GaAS particularly in the low frequency and low power domain. For power applications the pressure is on to bring gallium nitride to market. In the radar sector the application of radar sensors and imaging for security using active and passive millimetre-wave techniques are warranting attention.
As EuMW marks its first decade the European microwave industry can celebrate its well being and potential for growth.
The author would like to thank the EuMW and conference chairmen and company executives who shared their in-depth knowledge and expertise. Their contributions have given a rare insight into the microwave industry from those working at the forefront of academia and industry.