Microwave Journal

Microwaves in Europe: Leaving Unanswered Questions

September 7, 2016

As the UK waits in the departure lounge for the final flight of Brexit Airways, both the UK and the remaining 27 Member States of the European Union are fastening their seatbelts for a journey into the unknown. Just what is on the Horizon (2020) for Europe as a whole and the RF and microwave industry in particular? This report aims to set the scene, evaluate current activities and initiatives, and proffer possible scenarios.

On 23 June 2016 the Union of Europe took on a different landscape as the United Kingdom decided not to remain united with the other 27 Member States and voted to leave the EU. The big question is what happens next and what the impact will be regarding economy, trade, research and industry. Indeed, the only certainty is the unpredictability of the unknown. The UK’s leap of faith is also a leap in the dark—no Member State has left the European Union before and the UK has to negotiate the terms and conditions for packing its bags, the responsibilities it will continue to undertake and the “maintenance” it is prepared to pay for doing so. Ultimately and inevitably, it will be the politicians and lawyers who decide who gets custody of the proverbial dog and CD collection and who pays for further education!

Even the staunchest “Brexiteers” recognise that the UK will need to continue to trade and cooperate with the rest of the EU, especially if it wants to have a voice on global issues. In so many areas, the UK has led and helped shape the world we live in. RF and microwave technology has been no exception, with the pioneering work of Newton, Faraday, Maxwell and others woven into the fabric of our technological history. That rich tapestry of innovation continues today with the UK hosting centres of excellence and technology hubs, allied to the endeavour of scientists and engineers working to develop state-of-the-art technology, a fair proportion of which is in collaboration with European colleagues, either under commercial agreements or as part of Horizon 2020.

The European Commission has committed its intent, finances and organisational structure to enable Europe to play a significant role and strive to take the lead in technology that will shape the global future such as 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT), materials technology and the automated car, all of which are key areas of development for our industry. The UK cannot afford to divorce itself from cooperative programmes and agreements that already exist or risk being secluded from future partnerships or initiatives. So, following the UK’s decision, what is the likely scenario regarding technology development in Europe, in general, and the impact on the RF and microwave industry, in particular?

EU law continues to apply in the UK until the country leaves the union. To start the process, the UK government must invoke Article 50 (the exit clause) of the Lisbon Treaty. At the time of going to press, the latest indication from the UK government is that the withdrawal process will not be triggered until the end of 2016 at the earliest. After that, negotiating the terms of departure and untangling financial ties with Brussels is expected to take approximately two years.

One issue that was a key argument for those proposing that the UK leave the European Union was that it contributes more to the EU than it receives. However, one exception is in the field of science and innovation, where the seven year Horizon 2020 Programme that began in 2014 and which has just entered the 2016 to 2017 Work Programme (outlined later in this article) has a total budget of around €80 billion to fund, support and take to market the results of collaborative science and innovation, with specific emphasis on the involvement of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) and industry. As the name suggests, the programme extends until 2020 when it will be succeeded by Framework Programme 9.

It is believed that the UK’s existing Horizon 2020 commitments will be honoured and that valid funding/agreements between the EU and the UK will continue.  However, there may be a question mark over future plans being considered in Horizon 2020, where they involve bids for multi-year funding from the UK. To address this issue, the UK government is being urged to continue participation in Horizon 2020, which it can do by becoming an “associate country” and paying a share of the programme’s costs in proportion to gross domestic product. Non-EU Member States such as Norway and Turkey currently take part in Horizon 2020 as associate countries.

Significant for the RF and microwave industry, membership of organizations such as the European Space Agency (ESA) is unaffected, as it is not an EU institution, but an intergovernmental one that negotiates directly with Member States about projects and funding at annual ministerial conferences. Some EU countries are only “cooperating members,” while some non-EU countries like Switzerland and Norway have full membership.

While the UK’s exit from the EU has been the headline grabbing focus of attention since the decision was taken, life, collaboration, investment, research and technological development go on. So, what significant initiatives are being taken and what are the prospects for the future?

Horizon 2020

As previously highlighted, Horizon 2020 is the EU’s largest research and innovation funding programme. It has now entered its next phase with the Horizon 2020 Work Programme for 2016-2017, which provides a budget of almost €16 billion.

In line with the agenda of the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the two-year programme is designed to contribute to the jobs, growth and investment package to strengthen Europe’s global competitiveness. Research and innovation investments will cover both the immediate requirement to stimulate the re-industrialisation of Europe as well as the objective of building a solid knowledge base that will be vital for being in a position to take a lead in next-generation innovation.

Through the European Research Council (ERC), researchers will be able to investigate the best ideas that could lead to innovative growth-enhancing breakthroughs. In 2016 alone, almost €1.7 billion—worth around 1000 grants—will be made available through ERC calls.

Importantly for industries such as RF and microwave, around €2 billion of the Work Programme 2016-17 funding will go to SMEs, including €740 million through a dedicated instrument which should benefit over 2000 highly innovative SMEs. On top of that, financial instruments, targeted in particular at SMEs, will increase the opportunities for funding to support research and innovation. These investments will be intensified with the support of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI).

The programme will support a range of cross-cutting initiatives, many of which directly and indirectly impact the RF and microwave industry: technologies and standards for automatic driving (over €100 million), to improve safety and energy efficiency while reducing congestion and emissions; the IoT (€139 million), to address digitalisation of EU industries: and the modernisation of Europe’s manufacturing industry (€1 billion); and Smart and Sustainable Cities (€232 million), to better integrate environmental, transport, energy and digital networks in urban environments.


Horizon 2020 is designed to generate an environment that encourages research and innovation. In an industry so diverse as RF and microwave, it is impossible to cover every activity. There are areas where the industry is particularly proactive and specific key technologies where Europe is leading the way, together with smaller scale efforts of engineers and designers endeavouring to make a difference and push the boundaries.

The following offers a snapshot of pioneering activity in key projects, together with overviews from the three 2016 European Microwave Week (EuMW) Conference chairmen who are well placed to offer matchless insight into key areas of development and identify future trends.


This month’s cover story is titled “The 5G mmWave Radio Revolution”. Such a potent word as “revolution” is used all too frequently, but to see 5G reach the goals it is aiming for and to achieve its full potential will be worthy of any plaudits. In his cover story, Amitava Ghosh of Nokia Bell Labs illustrates the technical challenges that are being addressed and mentions some of the research and development work being carried out.

5G will be a critical factor in formulating a “digital society,” and Europe has demonstrated its determination to lead global development of this vital technology. Showing its intent, in December 2013, the European Commission signed an agreement with the 5G Infrastructure Association to establish a Public Private Partnership on 5G (5G PPP), which is the EU flagship initiative to accelerate research in 5G technology.

The European Commission has identified 5G standards as one of the five priority areas under the Digitising European Industry initiative and has earmarked public funding of €700 million through Horizon 2020 to support this activity, which EU industry is set to match by up to five times, to more than €3 billion.

At the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2015, the European Commission and Europe’s tech industry presented the EU’s vision of 5G technologies and infrastructure. Earlier this year at MWC 2016, the European Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, Günther H. Oettinger, announced that Europe has started work on a 5G Action Plan that aims to put Europe at the forefront of deployment of standardised 5G networks from 2020.

Industry has responded with the 5G Manifesto, which was signed by the CEOs of 17 European telcos, equipment vendors and satellite operators, illustrating that 5G will involve mobile, fixed and satellite network technologies. Five non-telecom companies will also participate in the next phase, including Airbus Defence & Space and Thales Alenia Space.

The manifesto commits to delivering a roadmap of trials and demonstrators by January 2017, to achieve interoperability of networks and use cases for the period 2018 to 2020, prior to full deployment. It also outlines that commercial 5G services will require a large amount of harmonised spectrum and calls on the EU to foster standardisation of 5G spectrum and to ensure that sufficient spectrum is licensed in time and at reasonable prices.

Although the 5G Manifesto was published after the UK voted to leave the EU, it is signed by all four of the UK’s mobile operators (or their parent companies) and specifies 28 EU Member States. Funding is likely to be an issue for the UK once it leaves the EU. Spectrum allocation is being coordinated at a global level, so it appears inevitable for the departed UK to harmonise its regulations with those agreed to by the EU if it wants to be a major player.

Those drawing up the 5G Action Plan, which is expected to be presented in September 2016, will consider the recommendations in the 5G Manifesto as well as feedback from a public consultation that closed in July.

In the meantime, 5G development in Europe cannot afford to delay or lose momentum with crucial research and testing underway across Europe.  For example, the 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) at the University of Surrey, UK, aims to drive the delivery of mobile communications and wireless connectivity capable of meeting the needs of tomorrow’s connected society and digital economy. Research is conducted in close collaboration with 5GIC’s members, who represent all aspects of the wireless communications and future internet domains and include the major telecom service providers, infrastructure vendors, device and car manufacturers.

Similarly, in Finland, the 5G Test Network Finland (5GTNF) test environment, which is a joint venture between industry, academia and the Finnish government, is promoting research and technology development by interconnecting 5G test networks belonging to the 5th Gear Programme funded by Tekes. The 5GTN is a scalable test environment enabling future business model piloting and service development in real life use cases that provide a platform for testing and developing the 5G system’s technology components.

RF and Microwaves

Sector Overview by Ian Hunter, EuMC 2016 Chair, with contributions from EuMC 2016 TPC Chairs: Steve Nightingale, Ian Robertson and Al Abunjaileh

We who work in the RF and microwave industries may sometimes forget how essential these technologies have become to society. Imagine turning the clock back to a world without wireless communications, radar, GPS or satellite communications.

The development and maturity of RF and microwave technologies has led to increased system capability becoming available to both the civilian and defence business sectors. In the defence sector, for example, a mobile ground platform may include a number of RF and microwave systems, including communications radios, high capacity data radios, ECM equipment to counter radio controlled threats, as well as other sensor systems that can detect what is in the air, in the vicinity on the ground and buried in the ground. This complexity has introduced a higher probability of interference between the different systems. This in turn has led to an increase in the requirement for interference mitigation technologies, such as fixed and electronically tuneable filters, signal cancellation techniques and use of time division multiplexing methods.

The mobile communications industry continues to drive filter and power amplifier technology, especially for base stations. Antenna sharing drives demand for filter-combiners, both single and multi-band. More flexible architectures and 5G are driving the need for tuneable and adaptive filters. Miniaturisation remains a main objective, with many variations of ceramic filters being developed. Highly linear power amplifiers, which will operate with maximum efficiency, even with signals with high peak-to-average ratio, remain of critical importance to the industry.

Higher demands on data for SatComm systems require higher flexibility in terms of coverage, frequency bands and connectivity. This derives the need for advanced antenna and payload systems. While a traditional transparent payload system would cover Europe using a single beam, for example, there is now a demand for regenerative payloads with multi-beam antennas. These are now progressively used commercially to allow for frequency reuse (i.e., higher bandwidth) and ultimately could focus the capacity on desired markets, reducing the cost per bit. It is expected that the market will drive the satellite systems to be more complex with the development of flexible payloads and active antennas to increase the operational revenue of the satellite system.

In the area of RFICs and MMICs, it is very clear that the trend continues towards high power with GaN technology and high levels of integration and higher frequencies with silicon technology. For very high power applications, power-combined GaN modules are becoming an attractive potential replacement for vacuum devices, whilst at the high frequency end devices are pushing into E-Band. In silicon, a number of centres of excellence are now demonstrating outstanding single-chip radar sensors well beyond 100 GHz and with integrated antenna arrays. Also, the EU DOTSEVEN project is addressing how to progress towards 0.7 THz SiGe HBT technology.

Recent developments in transceiver design at millimetre wave frequencies and above are being focused on, particularly with regards to packaging and interconnects. Significantly too, as device developments to address the “THz gap” such as the THz Quantum Cascade Laser are reported associated measurement challenges remain.

Materials Technology

When Professors Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of the University of Manchester, UK, discovered graphene in 2004, they unleashed a material with almost limitless potential across a multitude of applications, including semiconductor, electronics and composites, many of which impact RF and microwave industries.

With its roots in Europe, it was considered paramount for the continent to remain at the forefront of its development, so as part of its Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) scheme, the European Commission launched the Graphene Flagship in October 2013. The ramp-up phase began with 76 academic and industrial partners in 17 countries and finished at the end of March 2016 with 152 partners in 23 countries, one third being industrial partners.

The next stage, which aims to move the project forward in its mission to transfer graphene and related materials from the laboratory into society, has begun with the Core One phase under the Horizon 2020 phase of the Flagship. With €45 million per year of EU funding, the Core One phase runs from 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2018.

The Flagship’s overriding goal is to take graphene, related layered materials and hybrid systems from a state of raw potential to a point where they can revolutionize multiple industries. This may bring a new dimension to future technology and put Europe at the heart of the process.

ICs & Semiconductors
Sector Overview by Thomas Brazil,
EuMIC 2016 Chair

The 11th European Microwave Integrated Circuits (EuMIC) conference provides the opportunity to assess and reflect on developments in the essential material, device and circuit technologies that underpin the full spectrum of high frequency electronics.

The application drivers are clear, primarily arising from the continuing global explosion in data exchanged using radio-based technologies, with the next phase (5G) of mobile communications now coming firmly into view. This evolution will address not only a need for exceptionally high local rates of data transfer but also the requirements for highly distributed, generally low data rate nodes often associated with the deployment of the IoT. The trend towards mass market exploitation of millimetre wave bands to achieve these goals is especially apparent.

Of course, many other markets are also critically dependent on high frequency electronic components and circuits, ranging from the automotive sector, which is of high strategic importance to Europe, through space/defence and photonics to personal/wearable devices.

In terms of technologies to address these markets, there are at least three major groups. The well established GaAs-based technologies now offer a mature, commercially attractive option with good design support and rapid turn-around from foundries. In recent years, there has also been intense interest in wide bandgap GaN-based technologies.

A critical subsystem in RF or microwave-based communications links is the transmitter power amplifier, and GaN-based designs show particular promise in this application. For example, within the past year, a 2 W GaN-based power amplifier using a travelling wave concept has been demonstrated over a full 25 GHz bandwidth, from 75 to 100 GHz.

The need to manage linearity while maintaining high efficiency and dealing with demanding thermal issues means that circuit design is not straightforward in amplifier applications. GaN-based devices and MMICs, in particular, are still maturing, and this is reflected in continuing challenges in areas such as characterisation and modelling. Indeed, there is an entire session at this year’s EuMIC devoted to the modelling of thermal and trapping effects in GaN-based and GaAs-based HEMTs.

A third strong area of technology is provided by devices and circuits based on Si and SiGe. LDMOS devices have been around for many years at lower frequencies, but the most remarkable growth has been driven by the excellent RF and microwave performance attainable at low cost by aggressively scaled MOS devices. Achieving efficient power amplifiers in MOS technology remains a challenge, although concepts based on stacking devices are under active investigation.

Also significant is the recently-completed DOTSEVEN project, part-funded by the 7th Framework Programme of the EU, which was an ambitious effort to achieve room temperature operation of SiGe HBTs up to 0.7 THz. A further dimension to the use of Si technology is the increasing trend to complement traditional RF and microwave circuit design with CMOS-based digital and mixed-signal functionality in areas such as digital baseband predistortion and RF digital-to-analog converters (DAC). In conclusion, ICs and semiconductors continue to show rapid progress, providing key enabling capability for vast new and existing markets.


Europe has a strong and influential automotive industry that has always been at the forefront of technology and innovation. The automotive industry is the largest private investor of R&D in Europe with four out of the top five companies investing most in R&D in Europe being automotive companies.

Cars and trucks are so much more than just a mode of transport. They have the potential to be the vehicle for technological development from infotainment to connectivity and automated driving. And it is the RF and microwave industry that is in the driving seat when it comes to providing that technology, from chips to sensors and the means of connecting the vehicle to outside communications. Europe has leading chip and radar sensor developers, test companies and others working independently and with the automotive manufacturers to put the technology on the road at a competitive cost.

With initiatives such as the Advanced Radar Tracking and Classification for Enhanced Road Safety (ARTRAC), the EU has endeavoured to move development from the 24 GHz radar band sensor and use €1.12 million of EU funding to establish the worldwide harmonized frequency allocation for automotive radar systems in the 77 to 81 GHz (79 GHz) frequency range.

Of course the “buzz” is being created by “automated driving” and the “autonomous car.” A study commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of Economics estimates that the German market for driver assistance systems and automated vehicles will be worth €8.8 billion and create nearly 130,000 jobs by 2025. As part of the IoT, intelligent transport systems and connected vehicles will not only increase road safety, but can also help reduce congestion, raise fuel efficiency and improve social inclusion and accessibility.

Keen to avoid the all too familiar “developed in Europe but produced outside” scenario the European Road Transport Research Advisory Council (ERTRAC) is promoting a pan European approach, acknowledging its role in ensuring a harmonised approach towards implementation of higher levels of automated driving functionalities. Version 5 of the “ERTRAC Automated Driving Roadmap” was published last year. Its objective is to identify challenges to implementing higher levels of automated driving functions. To do so, the whole industrial sector needs to evolve and adapt at a fast pace to stay ahead of global competitors.

Radar Sector
Overview by David Daniels, EuRAD 2016 Chair

(Thanks to many distinguished colleagues who contributed their views and insights)

The 13th European Radar Conference highlights the advancing scientific and technical capability of the European radar industry. In the space sector, the European Space Agency has an active programme of earth observation by means of the Sentinel mission, comprising a fleet of satellites, some carrying the C-SAR sensor, which offers medium and high resolution imaging in all weather conditions. ESA has also developed ground radar for the detection of space debris.

Active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar technology is now relatively mature, with numerous systems in service on air, land, sea and space, examples being the Captor-E radar for the Typhoon fighter and the Searchmaster, an airborne surveillance radar.

There is an increasing drive to expand the multi-functionality of systems, both within traditional radar frequency bands and by the adoption of wideband or multi-band technologies. These developments present major technical and engineering challenges in implementing optimised solutions within cost and installation constraints. Major enablers are a modular, scalable approach, which limits non-recurring expenditure, and a drive to reuse technologies in as many applications as possible.

The development of lightweight antennas and faster processors, along with the need to equip smaller platforms, underlines the growing indispensability of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) technology. The developing use of UAVs in the defence portfolio is an area where innovation and cost reduction will assist the growth of suitable radar systems.

For the commercial market, automotive radars are growing in importance and volume of manufacture. Europe is at the forefront of development and implementation of 24 GHz and 77 GHz radar chips for cars. Companies in niche markets such as security, sensing and measurement are also active, and radars for drone detection, IED detection, airport security scanning and pedestrian detection are either in development, trials or production.

The technology of active array radar systems is well established, but few operational systems exploit all the possibilities of adaptivity and space time adaptive processing (STAP), and the workload associated with multi-tasking still challenges radar resource management. Future engineering challenges relate to improving the capability of cognitive radar in complex and rapidly changing environments.

The increasing use of advanced DSP leads to the exploitation of waveform diversity opportunities to accurately control waveform spectral characteristics and optimise target identification. Improvements in low noise amplifiers and high dynamic range fast analog-to-digital converters (ADC) aid receiver performance, while GaN technology for high power transmitter modules impacts the market for solid-state transmitters by significantly increasing reliability.

Much academic research is being carried out into multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) radar in order to overcome the issues of fading and obscuration and the low target RCS associated with monostatic radars. This and passive bistatic radar (PBR) are receiving much attention, and PBR has demonstrated detection and tracking of air targets at ranges in excess of 100 km, as well as the detection of missile launches.

Extremely high spatial resolutions are now being obtained from SAR and ISAR imaging on airborne and satellite platforms and enable ground target monitoring. Polarimetry, interferometry and coherent change detection (CCD) techniques enable the detection of vehicle movement, ground and vegetation changes.

In summary, the European radar industry and scientific community make a major international contribution to the field of radar and continue to harness and develop new technology and concepts for implementation in both defence and consumer applications.


This special report could not ignore the elephant in the room that is the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, which has cast a large shadow of uncertainty and raised questions concerning the consequences of that decision.

The UK may be leaving the EU, but it is not leaving Europe, and for its prosperity and growth it needs to trade and cooperate with its close neighbours to achieve common goals. It is a significant player that can continue to contribute its expertise and resources. That is particularly true for industrial development and the advancement of research and innovation.

Europe is playing a major role in leading edge technologies such as 5G, IoT, materials technology and automated driving. Under Horizon 2020, the mechanisms, both financial and technical, are in place to encourage and support development and, more importantly, bring these technologies to market. Those initiatives will continue, as will the contribution of UK partners to the projects currently being collaborated on. Hopefully, negotiations will ensure that such vital cooperation can be maintained for future programmes.

Whether breaking up is hard to do remains to be seen, but at this early stage, all parties appear to be committed to an amicable separation. Uncertainty and the subsequent difficulty in planning the next step and beyond is the main concern. Hopefully, the options will become clearer in the coming months and years, leading to greater confidence and stability.