Microwave Journal
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What a Year - Glad to Put 2020 Behind Us

December 14, 2020
Pat Hindle

2020 will go down in history as the most tumultuous year in modern time. From the COVID-19 virus to tense elections to trade disputes to social unrest worldwide. The impact of COVID-19 on the financial markets and reduced industrial activity will be felt for years to come. In the wireless industry, the roll out of 5G was slowed in the first half of this year but has roared back to near expected levels of activity.

Many trade shows were cancelled like Mobile World Congress Barcelona while others went virtual like the IEEE MTT-S International Microwave Symposium (IMS2020). The only trade show in our industry to take place in-person this year after COVID-19 was EDI CON China in Beijing. While attendance was light, this in-person event in China was a huge accomplishment, as China is one of just a few countries holding full-size events after the virus outbreak.

The hottest topic in our industry continues to be 5G as we saw the first stand-alone 5G and mmWave networks be deployed. 5G mmWave capabilities even showed up in the latest iPhone 12 and 12 Pro models proving it is becoming available in some areas. A related new trend in our industry is standardization or White Box as Open RAN became popular and the OpenRF Consortium was established for RF front end interface standardization. These standard interfaces promise lower cost, increased competition and reduced time to market but there are questions about if it reduces overall performance and innovation.

mmWave systems are becoming mainstream with the commercialization of low-cost phased arrays for SATCOM and 5G applications. Various companies are vying for the market using several different technologies. Wide use of high frequency silicon processes has greatly lowered the cost of devices and enabled the integration of the digital and control functions needed to realize advanced scanning and power saving techniques. This commercialization of phased arrays is also enabling new antenna technologies using metamaterials, dielectric resonators, LCD apertures, unique antenna shapes and spacings that improve efficiency, increase scanning angles and reduce costs.

With the 5G NR Release 16 finalized, 5G is further enabling Industry 4.0, connected/autonomous vehicles and smart cities. ABI Research expects the global Industry 4.0 market size to rise from $68 billion in 2018 to $205 billion by 2025 at a CAGR of 17 percent. The network providers are looking to these areas for larger growth initially for 5G rather than consumer data subscriptions. Autonomous vehicles, including drones and transportation vehicles, are an area of future growth with V2X communications being added to the 5G network via Release 16. Most of the Asian countries are leading in implementing smart cities as they connect services, people and vehicles to the network.

While President Trump waged war on Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE, the new President Elect, Joe Biden, promises to be more business friendly internationally allowing companies to compete globally without government interference. We hope that it opens a new era of a more cooperative atmosphere between the U.S. and China (maybe even Russia) that will help and not hurt businesses internationally–but still maintain a fair and competitive market.

With some COVID-19 vaccines on the near horizon, we hope to see you at some events next year. We wish everyone a safe and successful future as we overcome COVID-19 and look forward to better years ahead.