Microwave Journal
Swami Hindle 2021

2021 RF/Microwave Industry Predictions

According to Swami Hindle, ADI, MathWorks, Qorvo and Keysight

December 11, 2020

Swami Hindle's 2021 Predictions for the RF/Microwave Industry:

  1. 5G will be so amazing that we will not talk much about 6G anymore (for a while)
  2. AI and ML will dominate the conversation in high tech being implemented in marketing, data analysis, design software, financial models, manufacturing optimization and more
  3. Block chain technology will be used to secure most 5G and IoT wireless networks
  4. mmWave modules will be standard in most smartphones by year end
  5. The first autonomous taxis will hit the road
  6. The first commercial drone delivery service will start (for Pizza, I hope)
  7. Industry 4.0/industrial automation will be the most successful 5G service launched on private networks
  8. GaN will take over LDMOS in cellular infrastructure market with a larger market share
  9. Several new Quantum Computing records will be set as the race continues
  10. Innovative 3D packaging and heterogenous semiconductors will keep Moore’s Law a live
  11. Direct digital conversion front ends will start to impact traditional analog designs (some using AI to optimize the signals)
  12. COVID-19 will disappear, and people will start to forget how disruptive it was…

See what experts from Analog Devices predict Space and 5G/Communications markets on the next page!

Multi-functional Arrays – Analog Devices, Inc.

Keith Benson Director Amplifier Products

Military systems are very much aligned to other markets and applications – more productivity is needed out of less material. In order to reduce the Size, Weight, and Power as well as the cost (SWAP-C), the hardware in these applications is continuously pushed to higher levels of performance to meet stronger demands often at a lower cost than was done previously. Luckily advancements in semiconductor technology often keeps up this trend to offer significant improvements over existing solutions. We see the below trends in 2021:

  • We expect the trend of making systems electronically configurable to continue to proliferate. We find that military environments are demanding more functionality out of less hardware driving each piece of hardware to be more versatile. The common consideration is when is the performance good enough out of a multi-function system compared to what could be done with a more targeted solution. Or very often the requirement demands the performance out of a versatile solution matches the targeted solution with new technology becoming available. We continue to see that the electronics growth in each system outpaces the mechanical growth such that the underlying semiconductor technology is the core differentiator. The semiconductor technology is also quite diverse and advancing rapidly.
  • This trend will materialize in different ways. One such solution could be a multi-band radar solution that can cover L- and S-band in the same antenna with the ability to switch between operating bands. A second solution could be a AESA for radar that is also capable of data communications. This could manifest itself as a power amplifier that was previously only needed to generate saturated power now also needing some level of linear data transmission capability to it. We continue to see the military environment demanding more capability out of each piece of hardware.  
  • Phased Array antenna continue to grow in their intended applications. Analog beamforming has been the foundation for AESA antenna for many years with more infiltration of digital beamforming happening each year. This has led to the idea of hybrid beamforming or a combination of digital and analog beamforming. There are benefits to each approach and different use cases will prefer one over the other. In general, we see this trend to continue as data converters reach higher frequencies and reduce in power dissipation.  
  • Some of the obvious but persistent challenges with AESA antenna are related to the size and thermal considerations. There continues to be a push to drive down the size of the solutions with ideally no power dissipated to generate the necessary EIRP. This trend will continue as we see advanced packaging techniques integrating more pieces of the signal chain into a single component. New process technology which allows for reduced power consumption as well as better thermally conductive interface materials continue to improve and make these systems more achievable.


The Next Five Years of Microwave in Space – Analog Devices, Inc.

Sean Darcy – Director Aerospace and Defense and Chris Chipman – Manager Space  

The space market is changing rapidly in a way that not even COVID-19 can slow down.  Commercial space is being driven by the promise of large communications clusters and the new United States Space Force is looking to build out its own high-density constellations.  All this while the “classic space” players continue to build to provide high bandwidth stationary coverage, GPS III launches and a push to return to the moon.  A couple of predictions for the next five years:

  • The industry will move towards a consensus standard for commercial space components, SiPs and subsystems.  Much like the ASTM drove consensus standards in aviation, we will see an agreed upon worldwide definition for the next generation of space electronics created by industry as opposed to government agencies. 
  • The pendulum for space screening and heritage will swing back towards a more robust space requirement that addresses the needs of the high-volume constellations but provides high reliability for critical systems. Though commercial plastic can be utilized in space applications, there will still be value for testing, qualification and manufacturing standards that lessen the probability of failure of on-orbit space vehicles.  While this will not approach full classic space qualification, items like lot acceptance testing, outgas measurements, Single Event Effects mitigation, environmental extensions and 30-100 kiloRad radiation qualification will continue to be valued.
  • On orbit Communications Array will continue to be based on Hybrid and/or Analog Beam Former Integrated Circuit technology due to concerns regarding cost, power consumption and thermal dissipation. Full direct sample or digital beam former systems will continue to advance and will incorporate more functions closer to the antenna and will see deployment in the latter half of the decade. To support the drive towards digital, more of the fabric and functionality surrounding digital decimation and digital expansion of large amounts of data will be incorporated into digitizers.
  • Partnerships or consolidations in the space industry will drive the combination of the legacy high bandwidth provides with the newer “space based internet” providers to combine coverage by the marriage of stationary systems providing high bandwidth fixed data while the low earth orbit (LEO) component provides the low latency interactive data. This combination will maximize the strengths of both architectures.
  • While the altruistic mission of providing internet connectivity to the world (a least those closer to the equator) is a righteous goal, providing a high speed and low latency connection that is extremely secure and allocated to business data and processing will be the main driver of the new LEO Communications Cluster’s economic survival.  Companies that provide data services, data storage and the data pipe will benefit immensely from the combination of secure on-orbit networks and insolated dedicated bandwidth.
  • Both military and civilian satellites will move significantly higher in the spectrum where permitted.  While present plans go as high as 80 GHz, for communications between satellites one could see 130Ghz plus depending on the application and range.   Industry develop antenna on package solutions to meet this demand due to shrinking geometries.


Communications & 5G

Peadar Forbes - Marketing and Applications Director, Chris O Neill - Senior Product Marketing Director, Kerem OK - Product Line Director and Donal McCarthy – Marketing Director

2020 has certainly been a tumultuous year and many will be satisfied to see the back of it. Even so many gains continued in the Wireless Communications arena in 2020 despite the economic hardships. 5G Sub 6 GHz is the new kid on the block and promising to open a raft of new use cases and deliver performance. ORAN promises to disrupt the traditional vendor supply chain. mmW 5G is building in FWA. And finally, Wireless Backhaul is evolving to dual use radios and higher frequencies. Read on for some exciting new trends…

5G Network Ecosystem – Sub 6 GHz

  • The 5G ecosystem developed well across all bands in 2020, with sub 6GHz M-MIMO deployments ramping more prominently as expected. Despite some doubts early in the year about operators’ ability to monetize this new generation & sustain investment, ARPUs have been improving with wider adoption.
  • We see the upcoming C-band spectrum auction in the US as bullish overall for the technology as it underpins the layered coverage / capacity approach using different spectrum bands as widely discussed in the industry.

Private and Industrial 5G networks

  • Factories are looking to 5G to solve a multitude of problems. Quick reconfiguration of the factory floor allows factory owners to maintain up-time and react to the changing needs of their customers. 
  • The factory floor must also be safe requiring ultra-low latency links to allow fast reactions when danger appears and video is increasingly used to monitor for safety, requiring high bandwidth links.
  • Finally tracking of assets in and out of the factory improves operational logistics.
  • Features included in 5G such as URLLC (ultra-reliable low latency communications), Massive Machine Type Communications and network slicing address all these challenges and offer a future proof.


  • If 2020 was the year of O-RAN hype, 2021 will be when the rubber hits the road. Already we have seen Rakuten in Japan roll out their O-RAN network showing good speeds and a growing subscriber base, confounding some sceptics. The industry will watch closely how the network holds up to increased traffic loads to see if the promise of O-RAN will be delivered.
  • Eyes will also be on Dish as they roll out their greenfield network in the US, along with a multitude of smaller brownfield deployments across the globe.

5G mmW Use cases

  • We expect broader deployment of FWA as leading early use case for mmW 5G followed by accelerating mobility deployments within 2H2021, driven in part by more leading handset vendors including FR2 capability in their latest generation devices.
  • We see US continuing to lead in mmW focus.
  • There’s a case to be made that the pandemic has accelerated the FWA use case due to data demand densities shifting, cable incumbents adopting their strategy and WFH becoming the default mode of operation for most urban areas.
  • We have been pleased to see that operators are able to start monetizing 5G even before widespread deployment of the oft cited relatively more “exotic” use cases such as AR/VR & autonomous driving.

Wireless Backhaul

  • In 2021 we will see traditional bands (6-42GHz) radio volumes erode, while higher capacity bands radio volumes will grow.
  • E-Band will provide the bulk of the solution while W & D bands will start to move from R&D projects to real production platforms.
  • Starting with 4G, the architectures of the Backhaul system have added standalone E-Band Radios where licensing is available. 
  • As 5G Networks expand into all areas of the Globe, Dual Use Radios will become more standard and E-Band will be used exclusively where licensing and traffic/link use case dictate (last mile or urban links etc.). 
  • As 5G becomes more ubiquitous even higher capacity (first starting with W-Band and within a few years D-Band) Radios will start to be deployed.


  • New LEO constellations will continue to be fielded throughout 2021/2022 and will become part of the 5G ecosystem. There are many public announcements for new LEO constellations being introduced by non-traditional Satellite companies who intend to radically change how rural (and potentially higher density locations) terrestrial and Aeronautical and Maritime connectivity is achieved. 

See what MathWorks predicts modeling and simulation on the next page.

How will AI help models and simulate future wireless systems, enabling easier and faster designs?

Florent Busnoult, Senior Application Engineer (SPC, signal processing and communications), MathWorks

Future wireless systems have various layers of complexity such that design optimization takes months for wireless engineering experts using traditional modeling and design approaches. 5G-NR systems, for example, rely on beamforming techniques, massive MIMO, digital predistortion algorithms (DPD) and other specialized techniques at the baseband and RF front-end levels to ensure reliable communications. It can be difficult to optimize each of those elements individually as well as part of a whole system to reach an optimal design solution. Data driven approaches like machine learning and deep learning are well suited to solve such multi-dimensional optimization problems in a computationally efficient way.

Let’s look closer at one element of future wireless systems – the design of accurate antenna elements and phased array systems. As this task requires many time-consuming simulations to optimize the antenna parameters, it is another area where machine learning techniques show promising results. By predicting the antenna/array behavior based on its characteristics, we can increase the computational efficiency and reduce the number of necessary simulations. One such method is the surrogate model assisted differential evolution for antenna synthesis (SADEA) which carries out global optimization and employs a surrogate model built by statistical learning techniques. Similarly, deep learning can be used by engineers to select the most effective DPD models depending on the characteristics of the nonlinearities due to the power amplifier design and the operating conditions.

The complexity of accurately modeling the RF environment is another key limitation for the design and simulation of future wireless systems. Engineers typically rely on simplified channel models, but this limits the achievable performance of the designed system. Deep learning can improve on this by integrating the RF channel environment into a unified end-to-end system called joint encoder decoder or autoencoder. The idea is to build an AI algorithm combining the transmitter encoder, the RF channel and the receiver decoder as one unique piece of the system, freeing engineers from the need to design encoder optimized for different type of data and different channel conditions.

What is the future of AI and Industry 4.0 in relation to wireless systems?

Wireless systems, AI, and Industry 4.0 have a future that is intertwined. Smart factories will rely on wireless systems to gather the large amounts of data required to make decisions and diagnose issues proactively using AI. Using remote AI processing (located in edge computing devices) for real-time applications is a big challenge as it requires extreme robustness and low latency in the communication protocol. Additionally, smart factories will rely on wireless systems with AI algorithms of their own to provide improved localization within indoor environments.

See Qorvo's video on hot technologies for 2021 on the next page.

Qorvo recently posted their outlook on hot technologies for 2021

What will be the hot RF technology of 2021? Qorvo's tech leaders weigh in on what technology will rule the headlines in the next year. Will it be UWB (https://www.qorvo.com/feature/ultra-w...), Wi-Fi (https://www.qorvo.com/applications/mo...), IoT (https://www.qorvo.com/applications/in...), V2X (https://www.qorvo.com/applications/au...), or something new?


See what experts from Keysight predict for various markets on the next page!

Technology Predictions from an Electronic Design and Test Thinktank - Keysight

In 2020, the world experienced an unprecedented public health crisis – the coronavirus pandemic.  This has impacted all sectors of society and forced enterprises, small businesses, governments and private institutions to pivot, in some cases extensively, to accelerate digital transformations and rethink the way innovation is achieved. Keysight executives comment on the shape-shifting business operations and technology trends that are unfolding through the lens of the pandemic, the effects of which will continue to have lasting effects on organizations and society.

The growing acceptance of working remotely: The distributed and remote workforce has gained new respect and acceptance, especially for technology innovation, leading to a mix of remote and on-site work environments, which have become, and will remain, the norm even as the pandemic eases.

  • Collaboration technologies and practices have and will continue to take on new significance. Technology businesses will escalate the formation and organization of mission-critical innovation teams that will be managed remotely.
  • Engineers, and other innovators, will need to return to on-site, in-person collaboration, but will be more intentional and strategic about when to do so.
  • Enterprise sales organizations will undergo a significant transformation as hybrid salesforces (mix of in-person and virtual) apply new methods for relationship-building and learning objectives, as well as alternative ways to provide product and solution demonstrations remotely.

STEM will help drive the talent pipeline: With the increased focus on diversity and inclusion, we will see a hyper-competitive landscape for technology talent.

  • There will be a focused and amplified commitment to STEM – access and implementation – across all regions.
  • New methods of delivering virtual learning opportunities that level the playing field will be explored and implemented.
  • Enterprises and governments will tackle equity issues in the “digital divide” (access to resources such as the lack of computers, smartphones, Wi-Fi and broadband) that the pandemic exacerbated.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) will take on greater business importance:  No longer a specialized concern, CSR will be both a moral and business imperative consistent with an enterprise’s value creation strategy.

  • Shareholders, in addition to employees and customers, will increasingly recognize that enterprises with tangible CSR commitments generate better long-term returns and achieve more sustainable practices.
  • Ethical supply chains, inventory and materials sourcing vendors, will examine a company’s CSR programs prior to establishing working relationships with organizations.
  • The sought-after talent pool will acknowledge CSR as a fundamental responsibility for the companies they consider, and therefore an important decision driver for their career choices.
  • Climate change will continue to cause supply chain disruptions on a global basis such that business-continuity planning and supply-chain resilience strategies will be crucial to business success. This will highlight the need for:
    • Assessments of potential risks, as well as mitigation strategies and plans that cover the end-to-end supply chain processes.
    • A flexible sourcing strategy that involves multi-sourcing of alternative parts, parts redesign, and parts standardization.
    • A focus on ensuring facilities are resilient and have crisis plans in place in the event of natural disasters.
    • New approaches will be needed to address the inherent financial implications of these concepts.

The impact of a hybrid workforce on technology development, design and deployment will be addressed via software: A hybrid workforce, social distancing and other dilutions of historical work efforts will accelerate software enablement for product design and development.

  • Software-led processes will play an enormous role in 2021. Product design, R&D, testing, manufacturing/production and diagnostic troubleshooting will be accomplished remotely through software-led solutions.
  • Companies will rely on software to support a remote workforce by leveraging the cloud and providing advanced computation abilities.
  • Marketing engagements, customer interactions and customer support will each be at the center of digital transformations in 2021. Greater personalization in marketing and communication is assured.

Software will also be critical to digital transformations: The pace of innovation will accelerate in 2021. The adoption of digital tools, processes and software-led solutions will change the speed at which enterprises innovate, grow, support customers and conduct business.

  • Enterprises will speed transformations using software that improves productivity, efficiency, accuracy, security and time-to-market by collecting and acquiring information digitally, coupled with the use of advanced analytics and data visualization to gain insights needed to accelerate innovation.
  • Greater emphasis on new software solutions for design, test and validation, as well as for the analysis and interpretation of those results, specifically for:
    • R&D measurements and analytics as more experiments and iterations need to be tested. Engineers will need in-depth analysis of data which will require richer automation capabilities beyond the basics.
    • Complex design and simulation as electronic packaging environments become more complex, requiring measurements of power flow, heat and assembly while validating prototypes to ensure that designs are working as intended.
  • Security will take on a new meaning in 2021.  Developers will address potential security issues, including security testing, much earlier in the design cycle.  Greater emphasis will be placed on how products will be deployed, the use of touchless and contactless technology, removing human intervention, and fully automating networks that self-heal.
  • User experience or UX will continue to grow in importance for both customers and providers of software solutions of all types due to the increased role such solutions play in professional and personal contexts, and the ever-increasing expectations resulting from frustrations with mediocre experiences.

5G remains a strategic imperative for enterprises and governments in 2021: While the pandemic slowed deployments in 2020, in 2021 we can expect:

  • 5G to be the focus of intense international interest as 5G networks will drive improvements in power, energy, and financial infrastructures.  However, cell-site zoning issues and related policy will become a bigger issue for national and local governments.
  • 5G will move beyond the smartphone into industrial use cases and the enablement of virtualized healthcare delivery and procedures.
  • Manufacturing and network rollouts will catch up with 2020 device launches, and there will be a greater diversification of 5G devices with multiple price points.
  • Dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) and new national spectrum policies will drive widespread 5G deployment as accessibility to user equipment grows to address current coverage issues and cost of deploying mid-band spectrum.

Greater investment in the infrastructure that enables IoT and IIoT (Factory 4.0), including distributed cloud and hyper-connectivity: Private 5G networks for industrial enterprises will be emphasized, which will facilitate among other things remote operation and management.

  • A growing remote workforce will fuel IIoT which will require enterprises to deploy intelligent equipment to effectively manage manufacturing and factory operations from a distance.  As a result, we expect:
    • Increased investment in automation and use of robotics and machine learning to manage facilities, as well as a growing acceptance in leveraging the cloud to automate production lines.
    • New solutions for manufacturing automation, testing and analytics for all components as automotive and other facilities ramp up.
    • Greater investment in IIoT functions for real-time, predictable control, which will require an increase in the number of machines and sensors, and a network infrastructure that can manage this growing number of devices.

Although early, expect accelerated levels of investment in quantum computing:  For 2021, quantum enters a robust research phase in which the primary players will continue to experiment and invest in quantum research for the future. 

  • Today there are many competing qubit technologies – leading ones include superconducting, trapped ion, silicon spin, as well as photonic implementations.  These technologies will continue to evolve in 2021 at a rapid pace.
  • The materials research aspect of quantum will heat up in 2021. This will be supported by a robust investment pipeline, some of which will be funded by major governments as they learn more about the geopolitical and economic advantages of quantum computing.
  • An increasing number of customers will be accessing time on quantum computers in the cloud in 2021 to run new algorithms to find quantum advantage. More players will enter providing quantum computers, cloud services, or both in 2021, as well as expanding the power of the computers available to users.

Autonomous vehicle (AV) development will continue to evolve:  The automotive sector suffered headwinds due to the pandemic, however production and manufacturing will roar back.

  • As the number of sensors powering in-vehicle networks continues to escalate, in-vehicle networks will need to keep pace.
  • Electronic vehicle (EV) sales will increase yet they are only a small percentage (3%) of total automotive manufacturing. While traditional vehicle manufacturing stalls, interest in EV will pick up as countries face more stringent emissions standards.
  • AV investment is modest in the first half of 2021 but picks up in the second half. More aggressive in Greater China as this region is committed to phasing out conventional gas-burning vehicles by 2035.
  • The U.S. becomes more focused on AV and EV development in 2021 with the change of presidential administration which supports these technologies.