Microwave Journal
Predictions 2018

RF and Microwave Predictions for 2018

Swami Hindle, ADI, Skyworks, MathWorks, NI and Keysight give their outlook for 2018

December 17, 2017

It is that time of year again, everyone makes their predictions for the next year. Swami Hindle gives his 10 predictions for 2018 along with contributions from leading companies including Analog Devices' John Cowles, Skyworks' Peter Gammel and MathWorks' Ken Karnofsky plus National Instruments and Keysight. Please read through them and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Swami Hindle's 2018 Predictions:

  1. Swami Hindle3.5 GHz 5G service will begin deployment around the world.
  2. Pre-5G Fixed Wireless Access at 28 GHz will be deployed in dozens of cities in the US by Verizon and AT&T.
  3. IoT will struggle to catch on in many markets because of confusion of multiple types of networks and protocols.
  4. New antenna technologies enabled by such things as metamaterials, 3D printing and fractal geometries will make a significant impact on the market.
  5. Autonomous vehicles will qualify for deployment in 2020.
  6. GaN on Si will prove itself in certain applications and drive down the cost to LDMOS levels (GaN on SiC will still be more widely used)
  7. There will be dozens of drone incidents that will make the drone detection/defeat market take off
  8. The military will concentrate on building stealth drones with EW capabilities
  9. Photonics will become more practical and take some microwave engineers into the field
  10. Wireless charging will become widely available and enable new commercial, industrial and medical applications.

Wireless Industry Grapples with mmWave 5G - Analog Devices

The wireless communications industry faces numerous economic and performance challenges in 2018, not the least of which is the adoption of millimeter-wave 5G frequencies at 28 and 39 GHz. The requirement to manage multiple independently-steered beams is creating new levels of architectural innovation and raising issues of flexibility, cost and power dissipation related to partitioning between digital and analog beamforming. On one hand, digital beamforming is a more flexible approach, but requires a full transceiver per element and significant digital processing, which places challenges on size and power. Analog beamforming, meanwhile, greatly reduces the number of transceivers but makes multiple beam management less flexible.

This drives a key question that the industry must address in 2018: can the transmit/receive module be monolithically incorporated into the beam-former or transceivers, or will it need to be manufactured using a different process technology? The answer will only become clear once link budgets, cost and size trade-offs are better understood.

SiGe, fine-line CMOS, GaN and SOI Make Strides

The RF and microwave sector, which once was dominated by simple function GaAs HBT and pHEMT MMICs, is seeing the emergence of SiGe and fine-line CMOS. These are quickly displacing many functions in the cellular range that demand higher levels of integration, while GaAs MMICs are retaining the most challenging, front-end sockets at higher frequencies. At the same time, highly integrated CMOS solutions for higher volume applications that require mixed signal and digital back-ends will continue to grow. Higher-performance GaN and SOI technologies are already in development that will challenge conventional TWTs and hybrids – with GaN extending beyond 100 W for solid-state MMIC power amplifiers and into the kW range for modules. Similarly, SOI has surpassed the performance of other RF switch technologies in a smaller footprint and has demonstrated impressive RF and microwave transceiver dynamic range.

The Role of Defense Electronics in RF and Microwave Growth

Defense electronics will remain an RF and microwave growth driver in 2018, and program such as the Defense Innovation Initiative and DARPA’s Electronics Resurgence Initiative will ensure continued investments. Among the technologies of particular interest to the U.S. Defense Department, communications, missile defense, smart munitions, electronic surveillance and countermeasure systems, and space-based electronics will all rely heavily on advances in RF and microwave design, including phased-array antennas and high-efficiency, solid-state power amplifiers.

CowlesJohn Cowles has over 25 years of experience in the semiconductor industry. He joined ADI Northwest Labs in 1998 from TRW Aerospace and Defense as a RFIC designer under Fellow Barrie Gilbert. He became the design center manager in 2003, responsible for high performance RFIC product development targeting infrastructure applications. During that time, he was also responsible for directing ADI’s broad investments in microwave radios. Since 2014, he has been a General Manager in the RF and Microwave business unit, responsible for a broad line of baseband, IF, RF and microwave components and solutions. John earned a BSEE in 1987 from the University of Pennsylvania and a PhD in EE in 1994 from the University of Michigan.

2018 Wireless and RF Forecast - Skyworks Solutions, Inc.

2018 will be about the initial transition to 5G given that the rapid development of this new standard is being driven by market pull, and not technology push.  Ubiquitous connectivity is gaining significant momentum and enhancing the way we live, work, play, and educate, creating an immediate and insatiable demand for higher speed and lower latency data. While millimeter-wave frequencies will unlock a massive swath of new spectrum for 5G and cellular communications, we believe 5G will be quickly adopted as a dual-connectivity solution at sub-6 GHz and even sub-1 GHz frequencies.  Ultimately, this data throughput and low latency will enable a host of new applications, from autonomous vehicles to artificial intelligence, augmented and mixed reality, and much more, with some of the most exciting applications not yet envisioned. 

With this migration to 5G comes increasing band complexity and RF content through both carrier aggregation and MIMO. The initial phase of 5G in higher-frequency bands—between 2.7 and 6 GHz—for 5G cellular communications will have a significant impact on RF front-end complexity and the technologies utilized.  We foresee a need for new RF technologies to address signal transmission, conditioning, filtering, tuning, voltage regulation, battery-charging, and packaging – creating a perfect storm of complexity.  Ultimately, the evolution to 5G will be a key factor in the rapid proliferation of the Internet of Things and this presents significant opportunities for 2018 and beyond as demand grows for connectivity solutions specifically designed for low power networks. 

GammelPeter L. Gammel is Chief Technology Officer for Skyworks Solutions, Inc. He joined the company in June 2011 as part of Skyworks' acquisition of SiGe Semiconductor. At SiGe, he served as Chief Technology Officer and Vice President of Engineering. Prior to this, he was Vice President of Engineering at Renaissance Wireless and Chief Technology Officer at AdvanceNanotech and for Agere Systems' Analog Products Business. He was also a distinguished member of technical staff at Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs. Dr. Gammel received a bachelor's of science in physics and mathematics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in physics from Cornell University.

2018 Trend: The 5G Standard - MathWorks

The 5G wireless communication standard will provide significantly higher mobile broadband throughput with its enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) mode. While the details are not finalized, several techniques and features have been set as candidates for 3GPP LTE Release 15, the first version of the 5G standard scheduled to be released in March 2018.

Key elements of the new 5G standard include:

  • new waveforms with improved out-of-band emissions (OOBE) enabling more efficient use of bandwidth resources
  • shorter slot durations, corresponding to increased subcarrier spacing, for increased signal bandwidth and shorter latency
  • new coding schemes such as LDPC for data and      polar codes for control information, for error correction and improved data rates
  • spatial channel models for operation at current (<6 GHz) and mmWave (>28 GHz) frequencies

To evaluate the performance of new 5G algorithms and architectures, engineers need to develop proof-of-concept prototypes and prepare the new designs for field trials.

Visualization is critical in field testing. Test engineers need to superimpose captured signals as well as performance and parameter data on a representation of a geographic map. 3D and pseudo-3D representations require latitude and longitude in the map. For some 5G applications such as vehicle-to-vehicle communication and base station coverage analysis, engineers need to directly access map data with latitude, longitude, and building location information. If properly implemented, this visualization architecture enables engineers to comprehensively visualize system performance in real-world scenarios and demonstrate results to inform network planning decisions.

KarnofskyKen Karnofsky is the Senior Strategist for Signal Processing Applications at The MathWorks. Through his 20 years of experience, first with BBN Technologies and then with MathWorks, Ken has been involved in development and marketing of software for signal-processing and data-analysis technologies. Ken holds a degree in Systems Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania.

National Instruments recently published their Trends to Watch in 2018 - here is a summary:

  • 5G Progress Will Disrupt Test Processes

Wireless researchers have embraced a platform design approach using SDRs to expedite the early research phase of 5G, and they have delivered. Now, test solution providers must do the same. 5G presents a paradigm shift the likes of which we’ve never seen before, and a platform-based approach that is flexible and software configurable will be essential to the development of this ecosystem.

  • You Will Need 3 Things for Successfully Managing Your Things (IIoT): Remote Systems Management, Software Configuration Management and Data Management

Building IIoT solutions today represents an opportunity to develop a competitive edge and avoid getting left behind as the market continues to embrace available solutions. Companies across all industries are adopting a new breed of disruptive platforms and ecosystems that will transform businesses into engines of innovation and growth by exploiting intelligent technologies such as sensor-driven computing, industrial analytics, and intelligent machine applications. With IIoT technologies, we can harness the benefits of these state-of-the-art platforms to ultimately reduce maintenance costs and improve asset utilization.

  • Automating Engineering Insights Will Happen With Machine Learning

One key element to watch for is the incorporation of machine learning in technology platforms that help developers focus on new problems, save time stitching together adjacent technologies, and avoid getting lost in middleware. Engineers rarely want to spend time dealing with questions that have already been answered or deemed necessary only because of tool chains. What cloud analytics are supported? Whose cloud? Are there RTOS compatibility issues when deploying the models? Integrating machine learning into cloud, software, and hardware platforms will provide pre-curated technology stacks so engineers can focus on new challenges.

  • Vehicle Electrification Will Disrupt the Automotive Industry and Beyond

The government-mandated trend of electric vehicles directly leads to growth in the complexity of vehicles and indirectly leads to an immediate need for growth in infrastructure. The future of the automotive industry will drive the future of the grid, which will require smarter control systems. Turning this into reality represents a truly interdisciplinary challenge to build safe and reliable control systems among other needs. To get to market quickly, this will require an increased reliance on real-time test, production test, and ecosystem partners who have vertical expertise building tools on top of an industry leading, flexible, and open platform. With the right tools, engineers can adapt to the disruptive technologies vehicle electrification will require.

  • Moore’s Law Could Break

Though the viability of the venerable Moore’s law is being threatened again, market needs such as machine learning and autonomous driving will require continued scaling in processing capability and I/O bandwidth, which presents a fresh opportunity to drive new architectural innovations and possibly 3D integration to meet future computing needs.

The full NI Trends to Watch in 2018 is available here.

Keysight Technologies takes a look at key technology trends and offers insights and predictions for 2018:

Blockchain Grows Up – Blockchain, the technology behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, is poised for adoption in a wide range of applications that will greatly benefit from its inherent security. Smart secure contracts based on blockchains will emerge in industries from finance, and real estate to education and healthcare. Even mature industries are likely to begin to adopt permissioned or private variants of this technology as a way to validate compliance with international process standards.

Software is Everywhere, Really – Virtualization technology has driven a revolution in large-scale networked computing, enabling the rapid emergence of cloud architectures that offer radically new approaches to delivering value. As this trend accelerates in the networked computing world, the broad application of this concept to electronic systems will enable new breakthroughs in application performance and value. Traditional approaches will be disaggregated and reassembled in new ways to optimize the combination of high-performance customized hardware and the flexibility of software.

CMOS Enables the Commercialization of the mm-wave Spectrum – As cost-effective CMOS pushes to higher and higher frequencies, it promises to enable the widespread utilization of the mm-wave spectrum for consumer applications from 5G to autonomous vehicles. The traditional home of secure government communication and research is opened up to a wide variety of commercial applications, unlocking a new universe of “new” bandwidth.

Rapid Expansion of Hybrid Photonic ICs to Support High Speed Communications & Computing Applications– Power requirements associated with traditional electrical/optical data transfer interfaces in data centers is fast approaching a practical limit. To economically exceed a 25.6 Tbps transfer rate in future data center switches, new packaging technologies will emerge that will enable the integration of a wide range of photonic and switch ICs. Although widespread commercial deployment of this technology is not likely until 2020, aggressive R&D in this area is predicted in 2018.

Commercializing Space – Private enterprises are rapidly changing how humans will explore and utilize space. In the past, central governments funded, owned and controlled satellites, and dominated how space was utilized. Despite some significant technical challenges, companies, playing by commercial rules, will push forward with the aggressive launch and operation of spacecraft and commercial satellite networks that will deliver new applications from real-time weather-imaging and ubiquitous global Internet access, to consumer space travel and asteroid mining.

Schrodinger’s Cat is Calling – There will be major advances in secure long-distance communication. Harnessing the physical phenomena described in quantum mechanics will, in theory, enable completely secure communications over very long distances. Quantum communication holds the potential to be virtually unsusceptible to tampering or eavesdropping. Should anyone attempt to intercept or modify this type of communication both the sender and intended recipient would be notified of a security breach.