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Industry News

IMS 2008: Building the Future, Honoring the Past

May 15, 2008
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When the world’s premier microwave event comes to Atlanta, GA, June 15 to 20, attendees will witness a very different event from the three-day National Symposium that met in San Diego, CA in May 1960 under the auspices of the Professional Group on Microwave Theory and Techniques (PGMTT). The 2008 IEEE International Microwave Symposium (IMS 2008) at the Georgia World Congress Center will reflect a world dominated by wireless technology, miniaturization, microelectronics, communication technology and enormous commercial penetration. It’s a very different world from the San Diego gathering, where many basic microwave technologies were still being formulated.

Yet much of the theory and technique presented at IMS 2008 ( will be rooted in the same fundamentals and the same expertise in evidence at the 1960 event. Essential building blocks such as radio architectures have not changed that much.

What has changed are the components, the applications, and the scope of radio and microwave technology. Today, many components are tiny and power-efficient; applications are often consumer-oriented and distributed, and the scope is now worldwide and ubiquitous.

The result is a marriage of classical theory and applications with the economic power of the communication economy—a powerful amalgam of the worlds of 1960 and 2008. It is precisely this synergy that has given worldwide leadership status to the International Microwave Symposium and to the Microwave Theory and Techniques Society (MTT-S) of IEEE—today’s PGMTT.

We have only to look at this year’s IMS Plenary Session speakers to see solid evidence of this kind of synergy. Joe Taylor is a physicist, Princeton professor and Nobel Laureate who discovered gravity waves using microwave technology. His work provides a thread that leads back to the classical concepts of Maxwell, on which electromagnetic theory is based.

The other Plenary Speaker is Mike Farmwald, a “serial entrepreneur” if there ever was one. Farmwald, who holds a doctorate from Stanford, has founded six companies to date including Rambus and Matrix, and he is a venture partner at Benchmark Capital in Menlo Park, CA. He is a technologist, and also an investor who views RF, microwave and wireless as fields of great and ongoing opportunity.

Without the work of great scientists from Maxwell to Joe Taylor, we would not be here. And without the expertise, vision and energy of entrepreneurs like Mike Farmwald, we would be, well, back in 1960.

The Wireless Revolution

As we look back on the microwave world of that era, it’s interesting how mature much of the technology already was at the system level. It was capable of sophisticated applications in radar, Earth to satellite communications, and certain sensing tasks. But applications of that day consisted largely of point-to-point links. The equipment consisted mostly of larger elements and discretes, including the venerable vacuum tube. Integrated technologies such as GaAs, silicon and mixed-signal designs were nowhere to be seen.

The wireless revolution, which had roots in the original PGMTT, helped to change all that, and it continues to change the world. Very few people in the PGMTT in 1960 would have thought that RF and microwave applications would be so widespread in 2008, where they are found in nearly everything related to communications and computing.

Indeed, today’s RF and microwave industry is large and covers a broad array of technologies and applications, including cell phones and Wi-Fi among others. Hardware has been miniaturized and integrated in ways that microwave engineers of 45 to 50 years ago would have had trouble envisioning. Many cumbersome applications that cost thousands in 1960 are found today in devices the size of your thumbnail that cost a few dollars or less.

Another important distinction is that the point-to-point applications that prevailed in 1960, though still critical in many areas, no longer dominate. Instead, increasingly sophisticated systems for communication, sensing and radar are helping to push the cutting edge of RF and microwave, pointing the way to new levels of functionality and integration.

Today’s research is focusing on next-generation applications that would astonish 1960s microwave technologists. The wireless roadmap for the next five years includes multiple advances in cognitive radio technology and systems; low-cost, low-power millimeter-wave systems; multiple-input/multiple-output technology; sub-terahertz and terahertz applications; 4G and 4G+ mobile applications, interactive mobile broadcasting applications, and more, including a true mobile internet.

Of course, in other application areas things have not changed that much. As I walk around IMS 2008 in Atlanta, I will see waveguides not unlike the ones on the cover of a 1960 issue of Microwave Journal. I will also see large-scale antennas, filters and duplexers. In a block diagram form, we still are using many of the same technologies that we had in 1960.

Yet even these more traditional applications are part of a broad new cross-section of commercial, consumer and defense applications, including massive satellite antennas at CNN, communications and surveillance equipment on military aircraft, and DIRECTV dishes on many homes. This, too, is a rich and growing field that most people could not have imagined five decades ago.

Yes, we are still the keepers of Maxwell’s equations; we are still the microwave society and the technical disciples of Maxwell. But we are also using concepts from Moore’s Law, from communication theory, from microelectronics, from imaging, sensing and much more.

A Great Society

Of course, today’s MTT-S is a very different organization from the PGMTT. It is much larger, both in size and technical coverage, and few electrical engineers would question the importance and utility of membership in the society.

It was not always that way. When a special microwave group was approved on March 7, 1952, by the Professionals Groups Committee of the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE), the response was not deafening. By January 1953, there were 942 members, but only 471 had paid their $2 annual membership dues. The first symposium, held for a single day in New York City in November 1952, attracted 210 people and 10 papers.

To get a sense of those early days, we have only to look at an article in the April 1960 issue of Microwave Journal, written by professor Richard F. Schwartz of the University of Pennsylvania. Schwartz’s piece is titled, “Why the Microwave Engineer Should Join PGMTT.”

Apparently, microwave researchers were not yet flocking to join the young society. Schwartz’s appeal for increased membership touched on a number of points, including the notion that an electrical engineer specializing in microwaves/ RF would receive benefits from Microwave Journal and PGMTT gatherings that would be worth the modest membership expense.

His argument includes points that most of us today take for granted, particularly his notion that “mushrooming specialization” in the RF and microwave field meant that engineers needed to swap ideas in “special groups” in order to stay current and competitive.

Clearly, the professor’s arguments, and other efforts similar to his, were ultimately persuasive. Today the IEEE Microwave Theory and Techniques Society (MTT-S) has grown to more than 9000 members worldwide and 80 chapters, and for more than 50 years has been promoting microwave theory and applications including RF, microwave, millimeter-wave and terahertz technologies. It sponsors some 45 national and international symposiums, conferences and workshops for MTT-S members.

It’s hard to track the growth of the group’s yearly symposium; specific historical information on the earlier gatherings is rather sketchy. We do know that the 1960 PGMTT Symposium in San Diego was something of a departure for the group, for it was the first time the meeting had been held in a city that was chosen for its tourist amenities rather than for proximity to microwave research and applications hubs. Earlier meetings had been held in centers of microwave activity such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Palo Alto.

At the time, Microwave Journal editor Ted Saad suggested that if the San Diego meeting was a success, in coming years the gathering might be held in such exotic destinations as Hawaii, Miami Beach or even Mexico City.

Onward to Atlanta

This year, of course, the IMS Symposium comes to a city that is both a technology center and a destination. Atlanta is a center of microwave activities at the Georgia Institute of Technology (including the Georgia Tech Research Institute and the Georgia Electronic Design Center), as well as many area companies including EMS Technologies, Scientific Atlanta (now a Cisco company), AT&T Mobility, Cox Communications and many others. The city is quickly becoming known as the “wireless capital of the US.”

Atlanta, home of the 1996 Olympic Games, prides itself on being a tourist and convention destination. Attendees will have all the attractions of the Atlanta metro area at their feet, including the CNN Center, the Georgia Aquarium, the Atlanta Braves, the World of Coke exhibition, some excellent museums, and a large number of fine hotels and world-class restaurants that reflect Atlanta’s world-city status.

Just as the MTT-S and its technological world are decidedly different from that of the PGMTT, IMS 2008 will not bear much resemblance to the 1960 PGMTT Symposium. The three-day San Diego gathering offered only 36 technical presentations and two panel discussions. Of course, its sessions focused on topics that are still important today—microwave components and systems, amplifiers, parametric amplifiers, ferrites, millimeter-wave and diode applications, microwave propagation in plasmas and solids, and filters and measurements.

By contrast, the June 15 to 20 Atlanta gathering will offer well over 100 oral sessions, plenary sessions, workshops, short courses, interactive forums, poster sessions, student competitions and socials, among other events. At least 10,000 professionals from around the world are expected to attend the six-day meeting, and more than 450 companies will be displaying a vast array of technologies, products and services at over 800 booths.

Of historical interest is the fact that paid exhibits by industry and others were not allowed at the yearly MTT symposiums until 1972. Until then, the annual gatherings were strictly for scientific and technical presentations. Despite some early opposition, exhibitors gradually became a significant part of the annual meetings. That presence has not only aided MTT-S finances but also helped bring microwave technologists closer to the world of industry, which has greatly enhanced the growth of both microwave theory and technique.

It’s important to remember that the IMS 2008 symposium will be only part—albeit the largest part—of Microwave Week in Atlanta. Microwave Week will also include a microwave exhibition, a historical exhibit on technology growth in Georgia, the RFIC Symposium ( and the ARFTG Conference ( There will also be an MTT-S GOLD Pavilion, where MTT GOLD members can relax, network and receive GOLD-related information during IMS 2008.

Atlanta truly is a fitting location for IMS 2008. Its universities graduate more engineers—some 2300 annually—than any US area except Los Angeles, and it ranks fourth among the nation’s cities for spending on university research. This city of nearly five million people also has the third-highest concentration of Fortune 500 company headquarters in the US, and it’s home to such leading corporations as Turner Broadcasting Systems/ CNN, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Cox Enterprises, United Parcel Service, Delta Airlines and SunTrust Banks.

At IMS 2008, we have tried to make the schedule as convenient as possible. The technical sessions will take place Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, while workshops will be held on Sunday, Monday and Friday. A one-page, all-inclusive daily schedule is available at the beginning of the IMS 2008 official guide for attendees’ convenience, with more complete information in the succeeding pages.

Those who attended the 1960 San Diego symposium would probably be surprised if they found themselves at IMS 2008. Imagine what those engineers would make of presentations on “High Data Rate 60 GHz Radio Link Applications and Design,” “Low-voltage RF Design in 45 nm and Beyond,” “Automotive Radar” or “Wireless Medical Technology.” The sheer breadth of the technologies and applications on display everywhere at IMS 2008 bespeaks a world beyond the San Diego attendees’ expectations, if not their imaginations.

One IMS highlight not to be missed is a full roster of student competitions. This will include an Interactive Forum/Student Paper Competition, a Student High Efficiency Power Amplifier Design Competition, a Student Low Power Consumption FM Radio Receiver Design Competition and a Student Packaged X-band Filter Competition. It should be exciting and challenging as students from around the world compete. For more information on the Student Competitions, visit the IMS 2008 web site at

Much of the world of the 1960 San Diego symposium is still recognizable, yet much more has been added to modify and expand that world many fold. As we enjoy Atlanta’s IMS 2008, let’s be proud of how far we’ve come and look forward to a future of even greater accomplishment.

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