The expression “too big to fail” may have a lot of negative connotations when it comes to bailing-out institutions responsible for the global financial crisis, but when it comes to describing the annual International Microwave Symposium and its exhibition, the size of this event is all that matters. “Big” has become the preferred metric for judging the overall success of IMS. Sure, in an off-year some exhibitors may put an optimistic spin on the quality of their leads, but in general most attendees are looking for a constant flow of traffic in their booths. And such was the case in 2011. Three days of early morning breakfast meetings followed by back-to-back schedules, receptions, rep meetings, business dinners and customer appreciation parties left many attendees with ample networking opportunities, a plethora of new contacts, a lengthy list of action items and little spare time. And based on initial registration data, technical registration was 2571 and exhibit-only registration numbers indicate 1882 participants. IMS2011 attracted more than 600 exhibiting companies, a 9 percent increase over the number of exhibitors in 2010. According to preliminary results, the total number of IMS2011 participants, including exhibitor booth staff and guests, was 8770 attendees, a 9 percent increase over 2010 actual participation. These numbers are preliminary and will be revised after duplications are removed to the actual values.

When I posed the question of “why was the show such a hit” to the RF & microwave community on LinkedIn, the very first response referred the old adage – “location, location, location.” This is quite true. Baltimore’s proximity to hotbed microwave regions such as Maryland, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York and New England meant that plenty of local technical people could travel to the show with less hassle and expense.

In terms of square footage, this year’s exhibition hall was nearly three football fields -- including end zones -- laid side by side (although it felt more like five). With this much area to cover, it was quite the task to visit every inch of the show floor. Comfortable shoes were definitely in order. According to the show organizers, there were 840 exhibitor booths from more than 600 companies, 51 of these were new exhibitors. Once again the bulk of these companies were from the USA with 435, followed by Asia at 52, Europe at 36, 12 from Canada and 3 from the Middle East.

Travelling down the main aisle from the entrance, attendees were greeted on either side by some of the exhibitions’ largest booths including RFMD, AR Worldwide, Agilent Technologies, Ansys (formerly Ansoft), Cobham, M/A-COM Tech, CST, Skyworks, Freescale and Mini-Circuits. About half-way down this aisle, visitors turning left immediately stumbled into the booths of AWR, Anritsu, Teledyne, Rohde & Schwarz, TriQuint, Aeroflex and Rogers. If one turned to the right instead, they would have found themselves among all the partnering exhibitors on Agilent Avenue. Continuing further in this direction led directly to the MicroApps pavilion.

The bulk of small-to-mid size exhibitors were scattered in regions either to the back of the hall or to the far left beyond the food court, making the exhibitor guide, floor map and aisle signs essential to finding the location of your next appointment. According to many exhibitors, floor traffic started off heavy from the 9:00 Tuesday opening and continued right through the entire first two days with slight lulls for lunch. By Thursday, attendance was still high even if the energy levels of attendees were beginning to wane, the likely after-effects of Wednesday night’s various customer appreciation parties held across town at the inner harbor and Fells Point.

The show produced numerous press releases concerning many new products covering a wide range of technologies. GaN amplifiers and switches were hot items for a number of integrated device manufacturers. Semiconductor vendors, who earn a large portion of their revenue with front-end modules for handsets, e.g. RFMD, Skyworks and TriQuint, were busy focusing on marketing their multi-market products to the IMS crowd. Manufacturers of power devices for wireless infrastructure and Aero/Defense, e.g. NXP, Freescale and Integra, were touting their GaN, LDMOS or both solutions in packaged discretes, internally matched, or pallet forms. New VNA’s from Agilent and Anritsu arrived just in time for attendees to receive a demo in their latest capabilities for the sake of comparison. See below for a full wrap-up of IMS 2011 new products by category. NI and Aeroflex were showing off the latest in standard and customized PXI solutions.

Product Wrap Ups from the Exhibition:

Product Review: Test & Measurement Equipment and EDA
Product Review: MMICs, Materials & More
Product Review: Passive Components, Cables and Connectors

Additional show news concerned the recent acquisition of AWR and Phase Matrix by National Instruments and SiGe Semiconductor by Skyworks Solutions. The latter item should help Skyworks expand into the WLAN and PC world, while the move by NI looks to help that company establish itself more firmly in the microwave industry on both the software and hardware fronts. According to NI founder Dr. Truchard, AWR will continue to operate under its own identity, sales and support force, ensuring continuity for AWR customers. The bonus for these customers will be the additional resources that NI will be able to pour into the company.

Apart from the technical sessions taking place at the conferences on the third level of the convention center, the exhibition located two floors below has increasingly become an area for advanced technical training, thanks to the applications-centric MicroApps and the on-site classes held by various software vendors such as Sonnet and CST. Sonnet held over 20 individual hour-long classes ranging in themes from interfacing with third party circuit tools (ADS, MWO, Virtuoso, and Matlab) to model extraction of various structures. Companies such as Agilent, Ansys, AWR and Remcom were more into providing demos of their software in their booths with their expert support staff rather than hands-on classes, although these companies did participate heavily in the MicroApps sessions. Either approach was useful in giving attendees a glimpse into new functionality.

Speaking of MicroApps, this event is gaining in popularity as exhibitors are recognizing the need to present their technology from a practical applications perspective, as well as the benefits from a customer education perspective. The Nonlinear Characterization Expert forum, organized by Microwave Journal was standing room only as attendees filled the seats and crowded the aisle to see representatives from Agilent, Anritsu, NMDG (sponsored by Rohde & Schwarz) and Mesuro (sponsored by Tektronix) discuss the state of the art in nonlinear measurements and modeling. This event was also webcast simultaneously across the globe, which may have been an IMS first. Watch the Nonlinear Characterization Expert Forum.

With a schedule that pushed meetings beyond the regular show hours, my final meeting on Tuesday was in the Hilton lobby with the folks at Valpey Fisher after the exhibition floor had closed. This was just in time to watch the people attending the Women in Microwave reception file past where I was sitting. I am truly impressed by the extent of the turnout this year. It is no mystery that the engineering world is heavily dominated by men; however, between the increasing ranks of female engineers and researchers as well as the many women in microwave business-side of our industry, this well published event had a truly impressive turnout. In fact, the line to get into the reception stretched across most of the hotel lobby. Great job organizers !!!

As far as IMS 2011 is concerned, General Chair Jeff Pond, Technical Program Chair Ramesh Gupta, MTT-S President Dick Snyder and the entire IMS 2011 steering committee should be extremely proud of themselves and we congratulate them on a job well-done.

View our IMS 2011 Picture Gallery

View our exclusive video interviews and demos from the show floor:
Watch MWJ IMS2011 Videos