Microwave Journal
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Microwaves in Europe: Driving Forward?

August 13, 2015

After economic false starts and a stalled recovery can the European RF and microwave industry change gears and show the drive needed to move forward? Can European Union initiatives, allied to the skills, expertise and knowledge that our industry possesses fuel innovation and investment? This report considers the roadmap being pursued and the course being taken.

The European RF and microwave industry is a small cog in a giant economic, bureaucratic and regulatory wheel that, in recent years, has had to revolve around depressed markets, austerity measures and the vagaries of the global market. However, the EU is endeavouring to put mechanisms in place to drive innovation and provide a research, production and trading environment that will accelerate competiveness and growth.

At the 6th European Innovation Summit at the end of last year, Carlos Moedas, EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation stated,  “This is an exciting time in Europe. We have a new Parliament and a new Commission in Brussels. The discussions which happen now, will significantly impact the course we choose to take over the next five years. It is now that we define our priorities, our relationships with member states and each other. It is now that we define how we will take European innovation forward.”

He added, “I want to grow an innovation-responsive society in Europe. An environment conducive to home-grown, 21st century, disruptive innovation, based on three distinct pillars: Adequate public and private funding of research, development and innovation; a unified research area open to the world, with firm foundations in the Internal market; and a market environment quick to respond to innovation – making it easier for great ideas devised here to become commercial products and services – creating entirely new markets and transforming existing ones, through disruptive innovation.”

Such enthusiasm is commendable but out there in the real Europe, what economic, legislative and technological hoops are those in the semiconductor clean room, the RF component design house, microwave lab, test house or production line having to jump through and what incentives and support is being offered in general, and to the RF and microwave industry in particular, to ensure that these goals are achievable? What is the climate that companies/institutes are currently operating in?

An indicator of the current state of innovation in Europe is the European Commission’s annual Innovation Union Scoreboard. Last year’s report showed positive signs for innovation performance – improved and less innovative countries were catching up on Europe’s innovation leaders. Although the Innovation Union Scoreboard 2015indicates that the EU’s overall level of innovation has remained stable, it offers a mixed message, with 13 Member States presenting a declining innovation performance and 15 improving their performance compared to the previous year.

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Sweden continues to be the innovation leader, followed by Denmark, Finland and Germany, with the fastest growing innovators being Malta, Latvia, Bulgaria, Ireland, the UK and Poland. In global comparison, the EU continues to be outperformed by the U.S., Japan and South Korea. However, the 2015 scoreboard shows that, since 2008, the EU has managed to close almost half of its innovation performance gap with the U.S. and Japan but the gap with South Korea is still widening. The EU has maintained a performance lead over Australia and Canada and to a greater extent over the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries. This lead is stable or even increasing for all BRICS countries except for China, which is bridging the gap quickly.

Innovation is often perceived as the economic “Holy Grail” – a medium for growth, a catalyst for expanding existing markets and a driver for new ones. There is no doubt that the economic downturn has had an impact on the activity of the European private sector: the statistics show that the number of innovative firms is in decline, as is the innovative activity of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME). On the plus side there has been improved business investment in research and development.

Public investment in research and innovation is key to creating the knowledge and talent that innovative firms need, and it spurs business R&I investment and growth. The latest Research and Innovation performance in the EU: Innovation Union progress at country levelreport, published by the European Commission late in 2014 concluded that in the first period of the crisis, many member states protected their R&I expenditure. Some even increased their R&I budgets, such as Germany, Denmark and several Central and Eastern European countries. However, in recent years, other member states such as Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Hungary cut their R&I budgets further, even though their public R&D activity had already been well below the EU average.

The report also stated that analysis points to the persistence of a clear ‘East-West’ science divide in Europe, with a weaker science base in all Central and Eastern European countries (as well as Cyprus and Malta). This is alongside a ‘North-South’ differential: Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy perform just below the EU average and hold an intermediate position between Central and Eastern European countries and Northern/Western Europe.

More industry specific, the World Semiconductor Trade Statistics (WSTS) released in May 2015 anticipates the world semiconductor market will show a moderate growth of 3.4 percent to $347 billion in 2015. All major product categories are forecast to have positive growth rates in 2015, with the significant drivers being smartphones and automotive. However, the  dollar based WSTS forecast predicts that not all regions will grow from 2014, with Europe and Japan forecast to show a decline in 2015, which is mainly based on the current Euro/$ and Yen/$ rates.

This is backed up by the latest figures available from the European Semiconductor Industry Association (ESIA), which were for April 2015. They showed that semiconductor sales in Europe in April 2015 amounted to $2,889 billion. The figure reflects a slight decline in sales compared to the previous month, in line with sales developments in the other regions, with the exception of Asia-Pacific. However, in April, exchange rate developments affected significantly the European sales picture when comparing market growth in euros and in dollars. Application specific semiconductors performed well in April, with devices designed to be used in consumer and wireless communication growing by 3.2 percent and 1.7 percent respectively compared to March.

These are the circumstances in which the RF and microwave industry in Europe has to operate from large corporations to SMEs, from established businesses to start-ups, those operating in countries with relatively stable economies to those facing financial uncertainty.

As an entity the European Union has to take a cross-continent view and legislate for the collective good of all. It has long been an assertion of the EU that a key driver for growth is research and development and great emphasis has been given to putting the technological, economic and practical mechanisms in place to support innovation and create an environment where European industry can evolve and compete on the global stage.

A cornerstone of this activity has been the European Framework Programmes, which were launched in 1984. They have played a lead role in funding multi-disciplinary research and cooperative activities in Europe and were an anchor of support through difficult periods of trade.

Set to run from 2014 to 2020, Horizon 2020 is designed to build on the Framework Programmes and move the quest for viable EU research and innovation forward. For Horizon 2020’s inception last year, this annual report comprehensively specified its structure and goals, so the following is only a brief outline.

HORIZON 2020

With over €80 billion dedicated to research, industrial leadership and key societal challenges Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU research and innovation framework programme ever launched. As well as refunding research it also aims to mainstream funding for activities in all stages of the innovation cycle and support and encourage the participation of businesses.

Significantly for our industry, this includes supporting SMEs through the Innovation in SMEs initiative, which takes a company-focused and market-driven approach. It funds additional activities intended to support entrepreneurship and internationalization and improve access to markets through the Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (COSME) programme, which has a planned budget of €2.3 billion.

In parallel, billions are being invested in innovation-driven public-private partnerships, with instruments in place aimed at easing access to finance, including reinforced debt and equity facilities and the venture capital passport.

Also, the European Research Area (ERA) aims to reduce the fragmentation of the knowledge base in Europe, by putting in place measures aimed at facilitating the mobility of researchers across borders and across business and academia.

Examples of other measures that both strengthen Europe’s knowledge base and reduce its fragmentation through better connection between industry and academia include activities by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology Knowledge and Innovation Communities (EIT KICs), the Knowledge Alliances, the development of the Innovative Doctoral Training Principles and the Maria Sk?odowska Curie actions under Horizon 2020.

There is also strengthened cooperation between the policy directorates of the European Commission and the Joint Research Centre (JRC) as well the work of the European Forum for Forward Looking Activities (EFFLA).

Significantly for the RF and microwave industry, Horizon 2020 funds innovation as well as research and is actively encouraging and investing in key enabling technologies including information and communications technology (ICT), nanotechnology, materials and production technology. In addition, money is available for testing, prototyping, demonstration and pilot type activities, for business-driven R&D, for promoting entrepreneurship and risk-taking, and for shaping demand for innovative products and services.

LEADING INITIATIVES

These are the foundations, so how are they being built upon? In an industry so diverse as RF and microwave, it is impossible to cover every activity but there are certain fields such as mobile communications, the space industry and materials development where, through Horizon 2020 and FP7 before it, the EU is encouraging and supporting Europe to take the lead. The following is a snapshot of the activity in these specific sectors, highlighting key projects.

Mobile Communications

The European Commission is already laying down the legislative and technical foundations for the introduction of 5G. Through the proposal for the Telecoms Single Marketand the forthcoming Digital Single Market package, the Commission aims to develop a common approach to managing radio-spectrum use across Europe.

The EU Commission signed a landmark agreement with the ‘5G Infrastructure Association’ on 17 December 2013, representing major industry players, to establish a Public Private Partnership on 5G (5G-PPP). This is the EU flagship initiative to accelerate research developments in 5G technology. The European Commission has earmarked public funding of €700 million to be complemented by a minimum of €3.5 billion by the EU industry. As part of the €700 million, a new wave of 5G research projects worth €125 million has just been announced that will be launched in July 2016.

At the 2015 Mobile World Congress (MWC), the European Commission and Europe’s tech industry presented the EU’s vision of 5G technologies and infrastructure, which was written by members of the 5G Infrastructure Association, the industry part of the 5G PPP. The EU vision will feed into a global debate which aims to agree by the end of 2015 on the scope of 5G, its main technological constituents, and the timetable for putting it in place. Many European operators predict 5G commercial availability in 2020 to 2025.

EU investment in 5G technology is also an essential factor in reinforcing EU leadership in the field of ultrafast broadband. It is not only necessary to support the traffic volume expected by 2020 but also to boost networks and Internet architectures in emerging areas such as machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and the Internet of Things (IoT).

To this end the €3.3 million EU Funded Full-Duplex Radios for Local Access (DUPLO) project has sought to develop practical solutions to cope with the increase in mobile traffic volumes and the number of wireless devices.

The solution devised by DUPLO aims to make better use of available bandwidth in an energy efficient manner through full-duplex radio transmission. This technology enables the same carrier frequency to be used for data transmission and reception and paves the way to integrated reconfigurable multiband front-end modules for frequency-division duplexing in next-generation mobile phones.

Space

The main aim of the EU’s space policy is to use space-related technology to stimulate technological innovation. In the period from 2014 to 2020, over €12 billion will be spent on the implementation of the EU’s three space programmes: The Galileo and EGNOS programmes provide positioning, navigation and timing information worldwide, while the Copernicus programme provides Earth observation data and information. Thirdly, part of the Horizon 2020 programme focuses specifically on space technologies, applications (e.g., GNSS and Earth observation), weather, sciences, exploration and other space related topics.

A recent initiative that has come to fruition is the €1.51 million budget Terahertz heterodyne receiver components for future European space missions (Teracomp) project, led by Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden, which has developed a state-of-the-art ‘terahertz receiver’ that may help detect traces of life in space. The technology could even be used in a ‘sub-millimetre spectrometer’ for measuring wavelengths of light during the first ESA mission to Jupiter’s moons, planned for launch in 2022.

The project team focused on developing Schottky diodes and also worked to integrate complementary circuits such as a local oscillator within the same receiver. This enabled them to push the frequency response as high as possible and optimize the components so that they work well together.

Materials Technology

With a budget of €1 billion the Graphene Flagship is the EU’s biggest ever research initiative. It is tasked with bringing together academic and industrial researchers to take graphene from academic laboratories into European society in the space of 10 years, thus generating economic growth, new jobs and new opportunities.

Launched in 2013, the Graphene Flagship is one of the first of the European Commission’s Future and Emerging Technology (FET) Flagships, whose mission is to address the big scientific and technological challenges of the age through long-term, multidisciplinary R&D efforts. As a result of an open Expression of Interest, 11 new industrial partners, including Infineon Technologies have now joined the Graphene Flagship to bring in complementary competences and capabilities in specific areas. The new partners will be incorporated in the scientific and technological work packages of the core project under the planned Horizon 2020 phase (1 April 2016 – 31 March 2018).

As part of the Graphene Flagship, a team led by Philippe Lambin from the Université de Namur in Belgium has found that a graphene plane can provide an effective absorbent shield against microwaves. Lambin and his colleagues demonstrated that the conductivity of several graphene layers adds arithmetically when thin polymer spacers separate them. Maximum microwave absorption in the Ka-Band between 26.5 and 40 GHz is achieved with six graphene planes separated by layers of poly-methyl methacrylate (PMMA).

Multilayer microwave barriers constructed by researchers based at the University of Eastern Finland in Joensuu start with a first graphene layer deposited on a copper foil substrate by chemical vapour deposition. This layer is then covered with a 600 to 800 nanometre PMMA spacer obtained by spin coating, following which the copper is etched away with ferric chloride, and the graphene/PMMA heterostructure transferred to a quartz substrate. The procedure is repeated until the required number of graphene layers is reached.

SECTOR OVERVIEWS

The initiatives outlined above are offered as examples of the headline grabbing ‘pioneering’ work being carried out in the RF and microwave industry in Europe. Just as significant are the smaller scale efforts of engineers and designers endeavouring to: make a difference, push the boundaries just a little bit further and thus contribute to the technological development of our industry.

The 2015 European Microwave Week in Paris in September is a platform for the RF and microwave community to network, share ideas, take stock and look forward. Therefore, this report has enlisted the Chairmen of the three 2015 EuMW conferences: the European Microwave Conference (EuMC), the European Microwave Integrated Circuits Conference (EuMIC) and the European Radar Conference (EuRAD) to offer an insight into key areas of development and identify future trends.

RF and Microwaves

Sector overview by Serge Verdeyme, EuMC 2015 Chair With contributions from Almudena Suarez, Jean-Yves Dauvignac, Philippe Ferrari, Raphaël Gillard, Luc Lapierre, Jean-François Villemazet, EuMC TPC members.

Microwaves remain a core technology in the 21st century for civilian, defence and security application systems, such as wireless communications, sensor networks and radar systems. Based on the material being presented during the 2015 EuMC conference, this overview aims to outline the trends in European RF and microwave research and development.

Microwave/millimetre wave component performance and flexibility is a constant and major topic in the field of passive devices, influenced by the steady improvement of MEMS components and the introduction of new emerging materials like graphene, carbon nanotubes and GeTe materials. Low cost materials or technologies like paper, inkjet printing or 3D additive manufacturing for instance are also currently being assessed.

CMOS and BiCMOS technologies are increasingly being used for millimetre wave applications. Distributed components are mixed with lumped ones, and ‘IC designers’ have to work with ‘microwave designers’ to develop efficient CAD tools.

The current trends in packaging and interconnection remain focused on achieving compactness and maintaining frequency capabilities up to millimetre waves through the increasing use of organic materials, even for the implementation of GaN devices for power applications.

In the front-end and transceiver domain, researchers are working on innovative designs of both components and subsystems. Applications include next generation wireless radios with adaptive beamforming networks, dedicated short range communications at 5.8 GHz, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio astronomy project and the second European Meteorological Operational Satellite Programme.

Research to obtain the best efficiency is the main objective of studies of solid-state power amplifiers, with particular emphasis being focused on harmonic matching techniques. To increase the performance of signals with variable envelopes such as telecommunication, Doherty techniques and envelope tracking are being researched extensively. There is significant technological and design development with regards to GaN, even if LDMOS is a widely exploited technology.

EuMW 2015 reflects the degree of activity in the antenna sector with more than 100 papers presented on the subject during the week. A large part of this activity is related to integrated antennas (including a transmitter and receiver co-design approach) and also new materials used in antenna design and fabrication, in order to realize new tunable functionalities or agile antennas. Arrays and phased array antennas are also widely being utilized for digital beamforming, MIMO, radar, microwave imaging and hyperthermia applications. Printed antennas for wideband and multi-band communications are still prolific. Nowadays, antennas are often taken into account in the model of whole RF systems, sensors, sensor networks, radars, etc., that require the system designer to have good antenna expertise or to work together with the antenna designer.

ICs & Semiconductors

Sector overview by Eric Kerhervé, EuMIC 2015 Chair
In collaboration with Didier Floriot, Co-Chair and Eric Tournier, TPC Chair

The 10th European Microwave Integrated Circuits Conference (EuMIC) offers a perspective of the state of the art of integrated circuits, covering frequencies from the microwave to the submillimetre wave region.

One of the main applications for RF integrated circuits is mobile communication, where 3G, 4G and shortly 5G, will see the transceiver market continue to exhibit high growth. This will be driven by increased volumes of connected mobile platforms and higher complexity of transceiver functionality.

The key factors for the transceivers in the next decade will be the reconfigurability for multi-mode, linearity for complex modulations, tuning functionality for multi-frequencies, millimetre wave capability for Gbps wireless, along with a small size and power efficiency aimed at reducing power consumption. The silicon technologies supporting such applications should enable these constraints to be solved. During EuMIC, several contributions will demonstrate the remarkable progress in RF systems achieved through RF CMOS or similar technologies.

Apart from classical mobile communication, there are also many other RF activities in high-growth areas, such as Wi-Fi (802.11ac) and potentially WiGig (802.11ad), RF infrastructure including femtocells, picocell base stations and backhaul communications infrastructure. This can be achieved by wireless communication systems operating at millimetre wave frequencies as well as by optical data transmission.

As most of the power in a communication system is dissipated in the power amplifier, energy efficiency continues to be a hot topic of research. For RF power amplifier design, III-V and nanoscale silicon, circuits are being investigated at RF and millimetre wave frequencies.

There is also increased interest in GaN technologies. These technologies have been developed in Europe for the last 20 years, providing a strong groundbase from material substrate to qualified industrial sources. Previously limited to roughly 20 GHz in terms of application, progress is underway to extend to 40 GHz at the industrial level, and up to E/W frequency bands at the R&D academic level.

National and European administrations are committed to the objective of progressively achieving the complete GaN supply chain inside Europe. As a result, players in Europe are now able to address the substrate, epitaxy, foundries and packaged products. Space evaluated technology covering applications up to C-Band has been available for several years in the EPPL list of the European Space Agency (ESA). This domain will be extended up to Ku/Ka-Bands in the coming years.

At the product development level, there is a clear trend to make compatible power GaN technologies and plastic based packaging through management of the thermal heating and the reliability. This is mainly motivated by a cost reduction approach. Another trend is a mixing of different technologies inside the same package (GaN/GaAs/SiGe/CMOS) to offer full functionality inside a single package (SiP), creating more added value and so mitigating the access cost of such technologies at system level.

The trends that have been outlined indicate the direction that RF and microwave research and applied technologies are taking in the integrated circuits and semiconductor arena.

Radar

Sector overview by Laurent
Ferro-Famil, EuRAD 2015 Chair

The radar sector is a continuously growing area of research and development, with numerous and very productive interaction between institutional, industrial and academic partners, centered on technological breakthroughs, high level signal processing concepts and techniques and innovative applications and products.

Besides the historical defence-orientated use of radar, the most dynamically expanding radar activities relate to civil applications, where diversities of operating scales, from micro-local to worldwide; of products, i.e., devices, data and expertise; and of topical domains, ranging from environmental sciences to safety and security, encompassing medicine and industrial needs, have generated a wide and active market.

This growth is clearly illustrated by the high scientific and technological contributions presented in the framework of the 12th European Radar Conference, in particular with regards to three areas of intense development: multi-channel radar systems and processing techniques, imaging radar, and mmWaves and THz radar.

Multi-channel radar systems play a key role in the rapid increase in the number of applications and market opportunities in the radar sector. The joint use of several sources of passive or active radar information operated over one or more modes of diversity, such as space, time, frequency or polarization, results in significantly improved global capabilities, in terms of detection performance, unambiguous operating domains, hardware complexity and cost, and estimation accuracy.

Such high performance systems appear in a wide range of applications from mass market local measurements through to satellite missions. The evolution, in terms of hardware solutions and applications, of multi-channel systems deeply depends on the current capabilities of RF components and on the development of new multi-dimensional signal processing methodologies, orientated towards MIMO and cooperative network techniques, waveform design, sparse sampling and signal reconstruction and robust processing.

Imaging, considered as the precise localization of sources of signals in a multidimensional space, is becoming an essential feature of new radars. Besides its traditional use for large-scale mapping, imaging is widely addressed in non-destructive testing, localization, physical parameter estimation, and automatic target detection and recognition applications.

Signal focusing techniques may also be used to characterize RF components, electronic cards or devices, like complex antenna systems, anechoic chambers, in order to check local field distributions, look for potential defects or resolve EM compatibility problems. Imaging can be coupled to a large range of signal processing techniques aimed at enhancing the resolution of analysis, reduce acquisition requirements in terms of SNR, time and spectral occupation.

mmWave and THz radar represents one of the most promising fields of the sector. The use of higher frequencies provides many advantages, such as more refined spatial and Doppler resolutions and significant potential for integration through the drastic reduction of the size of the systems.

On-chip radars or miniaturized array-based systems will provide multiple and high-performance functionalities at a reduced cost, well adapted to short range applications. The combined use of such devices together with digital components similar to those introduced in the telecommunications domain should enable very appealing, software defined or reconfigurable types of applications.

The radar sector is in a period of rapid and deep growth. It is not only benefiting from technological development itself but often inspires other fields of activity such as RF component and device design or signal processing.

CONCLUSION

Like other market sectors in Europe the RF and microwave industry has to steer a course through the economic downturn and address the issues of skills shortages, funding cuts and reluctant investors. However, like a skilled car mechanic it has the right tools to engineer positivity and progress – an educated workforce, a strong tradition of academic excellence and a long history of technological and industrial development.

As we turn the corner and exit the economic downturn, research and innovation is becoming increasingly important. It is seen as an investment in the future that is at the heart of the EU’s blueprint for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and jobs. Those countries that invested in R&I before and during the crisis have often been most resistant to economic hardship, which is a good reason why more should be striving to reach the EU target to invest 3 percent of GDP in R&D.

As can be seen from the examples given in this report, the European RF and microwave industry, helped by Horizon 2020 and other initiatives, is at the forefront of the latest technologies, with a significant role to play in shaping the future and influencing global markets. Not all initiatives have to be large scale – SMEs are the backbone that collectively supports the RF and microwave skeleton in Europe, able to use their inherent flexibility and economies of scale to be agile and adaptable to changing market conditions.

Whatever the source, cutting edge engineering and design and innovative entrepreneurship that has the ability to turn research into technology and bring technology to market will be a key driver for future prosperity.