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It appears we are in the dawn of a New Microwave Era. As Sherry Hess wrote about last year during the dark days of the Recession, the down economy will ultimately cause Creative Destruction for our industry. I am impressed how this creation-by-necessity has lead to some very innovative thinking.
Forget about all the shiny new gadgets launched conspicuously in time for IMS 2010, this does not speak to the relative health of our industry. This happens every year, rain or shine. However, if you dig a little further to notice who is doing what and where they are doing it, you would see that that IMS 2010 marks the beginning of a paradigm shift for the RF/microwave industry. The times they are a-changing, here is how:
1. Small companies are providing the enabling technologies of the New Microwave Era. In talking with many other small companies at IMS, it seems that the large companies are increasingly reliant on specialist companies who can provide a competitive advantage based on performance and technical support, not price. Because quality and performance is so highly coveted in this environment, the brightest engineers have been able to prosper and develop their ideas and companies into agile, efficient and irreplaceable entities.
2. The younger generation is coming online…quickly. What is most impressive is not just the sheer numbers of young people who attended this year, but the fact that they are already making contributions to the field. My dad, for one, is excited to see the new influx of creativity and enthusiasm. He was seeing the industry becoming boring and stagnant, not anymore. The partnerships and rivalries of the next 30 years are being forged before our eyes.
3. “Made in USA” still means something. Many American companies are still able to turn healthy profits without having to outsource manufacturing. This means two things: the commodity wireless business isn’t the only sector in which to make money, and people are putting a premium on quality made goods. I am not saying quality products can’t be made outside the USA, I am saying that the making of high quality products requires the watchful eye of the design engineer. As we continue to see a flight to quality and performance, in house manufacturing will continue its Renaissance.
With respect to these trends I’ve identified some bold, and not so bold, predictions for the coming year:
1. Nonlinear performance metrics like 1 dB compression and two-tone intercept will continue to dominate new system requirements. Dynamic range is still king.
2. We are entering the Decade of Phase Noise. (My father predicted this 10 years ago and appears to have been off by a decade.) Clean oscillators, amplifiers, multiplies and mixers will receive increasing amounts of attention.
3. Nonlinear simulations and X-parameters will continue to dominate headlines, and yet most practicing engineers will not use them. X-parameter data will not be commonly available from component vendors for at least 3 more years.
4. Small companies will begin to form “think-tank” consortiums (both formally and informally). Experts in their respective fields will begin to collaborate openly in order to advance their art in synergistic ways. Significant technological contributions will result from these partnerships.
5. Seeking to model the success of the small business consortiums, larger companies will recommit to funding their own research labs for advanced technology development.
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