It was a year of surprises – the RF and microwave industry was dominated by acquisitions and mergers as we experienced an unprecedented level of consolidation. While a couple of major mergers were expected, I was not prepared for the large number that actually occurred and the speed at which some took place. Some of the major company consolidations included the merger of RFMD and TriQuint (now Qorvo); the acquisition of several companies like Nitronex and Mindspeed by MACOM; the acquisition of Aeroflex by Cobham; Global Foundries’ buyout of IBM’s microelectronics business; the purchase of Peregrine by Murata and the acquisition of Hittite by Analog Devices (which took place in just over a month). Meanwhile, Skyworks hit the $2 billion mark in sales as probably the first RF/microwave semiconductor company to break that milestone (having completed its major merger quite a while back with Conexant).
Most of the consolidation was focused in the semiconductor industry, where volume is a major cost driver. It is a sign that RF and microwave applications are being used in mainstream consumer applications where the cost needs to be driven down to realize the needed volume. Even giants like Qualcomm and Intel are eyeing these markets as wireless has become an integral part of our everyday lives. I think the consolidation will taper off soon as the buying opportunities have mostly been realized, although I could see a similar scenario hitting some of the software and test & measurement companies. Leveraging software with testing hardware presents a strong value proposition to users, which could potentially drive consolidation in that area.
On the technology side, 5G research and prototyping took off this year as investments expanded quickly with support from industry and academia. Massive MIMO, software defined radio/cloud RAN, coordinated small cells/HetNets, mmWave transceivers and alternative modulation schemes are being analyzed for possible inclusion into the 5G standards. We highlighted 5G technologies several times this year including our November supplement cover story, which featured the latest mmWave propagation test results for 5G. This happened at the same time as the 4G rollout gathered steam, especially in the Chinese market where demand for components has been strong. CMOS continued to advance in the RF marketplace by showing off single chip RF fronts ends for 4G handsets and integrated mmWave AESA chips with up to 16 elements, discussed in our May cover story. Although CMOS has taken more market share in the RF marketplace along with GaN, GaAs still has a major presence in our industry due to its flexibility and already established manufacturing infrastructure. As the focus for more efficient amplifiers continued in 2014, envelope tracking entered the mainstream as a MIPI standard, eTrak. This topic was highlighted in our April cover feature, discussing various high efficiency amplifier design techniques, and again in September, more specifically about the standard.
On the aerospace and defense front, Microwave Journal covered the growing trend toward smaller satellites in our August issue, with antenna design techniques for nano satellites. As previously noted in our January cover feature, these small structures are challenging for traditional antenna designers and could require new technologies like metamaterials for realizing the required performance and features. In October, our cover feature on the DARPA program for Mobile Hotspots focused on a gigabit E-Band UAV mobile network. The components designed for this program obtained 17 W at 74 GHz with a goal of 20 W, which is very impressive.
As Apple and Samsung released wearable technologies in the form of connected watches and other devices, and connected vehicles started to hit the market, the Internet of Things was revived as a fast growing (but often over-hyped) trend. There are a lot of forecasts circulating, but ABI Research believes the installed base of active wireless connected devices willexceed 16 billion in 2014 and is forecast to be 40.9 billion by 2020. On the vehicle side, IHS Automotive predicts the number of cars connected to the Internet worldwide will grow to 152 million in 2020 from 23 million in 2013.
The design of these devices presents many challenges, which is why we decided to include two articles in our December cover feature. The first takes a look at low power design techniques for wearable technologies, and the second talks about mesh networking for industrial applications. ABI Research expects the installed base for 802.15.4-enabled devices to increase almost fivefold over the next five years, rising from just under 425 million today to over 2.1 billion in 2019. ABI also expects IPv6-enabled alternative 802.15.4 technologies to take a significant market share of 35 percent by 2019. There is no doubt that 5G and IoT are two areas that will demand significant coverage in 2015.
Microwave Journal also continued coverage of these topics in its third year with Microwave Journal China and second successful year with EDI CON China, an industry driven conference and exhibition. We will continue to increase our offerings to clients and readers in 2015 by expanding our digital and print products along with our live events. The EDI CON industry driven event model, focused on the practicing engineer, has been well received and allows the practical conference to be integrated within the exhibition, including workshops and tutorials on the latest technology being offered by leaders in the industry. We look forward to any feedback you have as we strive to improve our coverage and technical content. Happy Holidays!