Microwave Journal

IMS 2021: A First Step Back Toward Normal

July 5, 2021

The 2021 International Microwave Symposium (IMS2021) convened in-person in Atlanta, Georgia, from June 6–9. It was the first large RF/microwave industry gathering since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The technical program and exhibition were shortened to account for the limited number of people expected, with total attendance near 1500 — very low compared to a normal year — but this was certainly not a normal year. Nonetheless, everyone seemed quite satisfied with the turnout and happy to see each other. The quality of the attendees was high, as everyone who traveled to the event was intent on doing business and learning about new products and technologies.

Microwave Journal visited many of the more than 200 companies exhibiting at the physical event, producing 20 video interviews and demos and an image gallery of photos. Check out the company videos and photos. In addition, the following paragraphs capture some of the other company and product highlights we saw.

3DGS CEO Mark Popovic met with Microwave Journal to explain the evolving strategy of the 15-year-old company, as it focuses its 3D glass process on fabricating high Q components. According to Popovic, a 3DGS coil inductor has 50 to 100 percent higher Q than traditional coils, i.e., Qs of 100 to 150 versus 50 to 60. During the past five years, 3DGS has shifted from marketing its capability for module integration to component products, motivated by the goal of establishing the technology’s performance, manufacturing capability and competitive cost. 3DGS has not abandoned developing the integration capabilities of its process; rather, it recognizes that potential customers are reluctant to give a small company with an unproven technology a key program. By producing cost-effective components in high volume, 3DGS aims to enhance its credibility. The potential of 3DGS technology has attracted investments from Murata and Lockheed Martin Ventures. 3DGS made several announcements at IMS2021, such as “locking” the process flow for its integrated passive device technology node, with design rules now available in a process design kit.

Altum RF, a fabless semiconductor company just a few years old, continues to build out its internal capabilities and product portfolio, focusing on microwave and mmWave infrastructure applications such as test and measurement, defense, SatCom and point-to-point backhaul. At its booth in Atlanta, CEO Greg Baker was discussing several recent products. For SatCom and 5G, Altum RF is offering two, 27 to 31.5 GHz power amplifier MMICs fabricated with 0.15 mm GaN. First available as die, the ARF1013 delivers 6 W output power, the ARF1014 12 W. For point-to-point radio systems at E-Band (i.e., 71 to 76 and 81 to 86 GHz), the company is now sampling two 1 W power amplifier (PA) MMICs fabricated with a 0.1 mm GaAs process, one optimized for the lower band, the other for the higher band. Using the same GaAs process, Altum RF is developing MMICs at D-Band, already preparing for 6G opportunities. Watch Greg Baker’s update to Microwave Journal editor Gary Lerude.

Because of the pandemic, Ampleon did not have a standalone booth, rather a display in the RFMW booth. Yet despite the limited space, several Ampleon products were featured: asymmetric Doherty PAs and integrated Doherty PA modules for cellular base stations, 1.6 and 2 kW LDMOS devices for industrial plasma generation systems and several GaN on SiC devices. The latter included 10, 30 and 100 W unmatched GaN transistors and a 700 W, 2.7 to 3.1 GHz GaN PA for S-Band radar.

APITech introduced new printed filters in a rugged, low-profile package, covering the 2 to 40 GHz frequency range and available in lowpass, highpass, bandpass, band reject and multiplexer designs. These high reliability filters expand APITech’s reach in the growing market of printed electronics, where printed components and circuits offer ease of use, cost reduction and greater efficiency. Watch David Markman discuss the trends in radar and EW systems with Microwave Journal editorial director Pat Hindle.

AR promoted PAs for wireless component testing, particularly optimum for RF high temperature operational life burn-in systems, which run 24/7. AR’s amplifier family is comprised of class A designs that provide frequency coverage from 700 MHz to 18 GHz and output power from 15 to 500 W. The 40S6G18L, for example, covers 6 to 18 GHz and has 40 W CW output power capability. The 60/40S1G18 covers 700 MHz to 18 GHz and provides CW output power levels of 60 or 40 W. Watch AR’s demo of DPD measurements.

Arralis is setting up full design and manufacturing capabilities in the U.S. At IMS2021, the company was featuring their K/Ka-Band chipset and E-Band radar. The K/Ka-Band chipset comprises all the circuits required to build satellite and ground station front-ends that connect with higher power PAs and antennas. The E-Band radar enables synthetic vision for rotorcraft landings in poor conditions and the detection of obstacles. A 76 to 77 GHz radar, it provides better detection range, elevation resolution and scan area that competing products.

Atlanta Micro announced a 1 MHz to 22 GHz low noise amplifier (LNA). The AM1102 has 2.3 dB noise figure, 14 dB gain, 15 dBm P1dB and 26 dBm OIP3. In addition to the RF performance, the 50 Ω LNA offers attractive size, weight and power: available either packaged in a 3 mm x 3 mm QFN or as a connectorized module and biased with +3.3 V and dissipating less than 160 mW.

CML Microcircuits used IMS2021 to introduce the SmRF product family: high frequency, high bandwidth RFICs and MMICs for applications such as 5G, IoT and SatCom. Designed with GaAs or GaN, the products cover the microwave and mmWave frequencies from 1 to 100 GHz and are supplied in standard IC packages. Examples include 28 GHz Doherty PAs, several low power 1.4 to 7.1 GHz gain blocks and a 860 to 960 MHz PA series, well suited for ISM and IoT applications where low power dissipation is required to maximize battery life.

Copper Mountain was promoting a new cost-effective 44 GHz vector network analyzer (VNA) in Atlanta. Watch Subbaiah Pemmaiah's demo of the VNA.

Eravant had a new booth featuring many new products. One, the STO-10203-U6, a W-Band VNA frequency extender that extends a VNA’s range to 75 to 110 GHz for two-port S-parameter testing. It is compatible with modern VNAs such as the Anritsu VectorStar, Rohde & Schwarz ZVA24, Copper Mountain CobaltFx C4220 and Keysight PNA-X Series. The companion calibration kit, STQ-TO-10-S1-CKIT1, is offered to support the W-Band VNA test set. Another featured product was the STQ-TO-10-S1-CKIT1, a metrology grade, W-Band calibration kit designed for standard VNAs. It consists of one fixed short, one fixed matching load, three waveguide shims with 1/8 λg, ¼ λg and 3/8 λg offsets, two waveguide quick-connects, 10 waveguide screws, one waveguide screwdriver and one calibration data USB drive. NIST calibration traceable certs can be offered for an additional fee. Available as various models, the kits cover 26.5 to 325 GHz. Watch Pat Hindle’s conversation with Wendy Shu, Eravant’s CEO.

ETS-Lindgren demonstrated its newest positioner, the 2304 Precision Mobile Multi-Axis Positioning System (MAPS). Designed for systems that measure spherical antenna patterns and total radiated power, the 2304 MAPS independently and smoothly rotates a test device in the q and j axes over 360 degrees — either clockwise or counterclockwise non-continuous — and at variable speeds using the optional software. Portable, it can be used in existing chambers and multipurpose or shared test facilities. To minimize reflections, the MAPS is covered with low reflective absorber, and the control and motor units are contained in RF-shielded enclosures designed to be placed below the absorber. Fiber optic signal lines connect the controller to a PC using an Ethernet-over-fiber adapter at the PC.

Fortify introduced a unique 3D printed RF structures using Rogers low loss material at IMS2021. To learn more about the capability, watch Pat Hindle’s interview with Phil Lambert of Fortify.

Gel-Pak featured its new Lid Clip Super System (LCS2), as well as the polyurethane device and texturized film device carriers. The LCS2, developed in collaboration with BAE Systems, prevents thin semiconductor die from migrating out of the pockets of waffle pack chip trays during shipping and handling. Darby Davis, the vice president of sales and marketing, presented the LCS2 during a Microapp session on June 8. Gel-Pak’s new polyurethane device carriers look and function like the Gel-Box, Gel-Tray and Vacuum Release Tray products but use an alternative elastomer technology that is both static dissipative and non-silicone. The textured film carrier products are based on a reversible adhesion technology known as the Gecko effect, using microstructures to securely hold components in place during shipping and handling. The film is well suited for in-process device handling and shipping packaged components.

Guerrilla RF used IMS2021 to announce a major milestone: shipping more than 100 million products less than six years after releasing its first product. While the company’s growth in 2020 was dampened by the pandemic, demand has returned, and founder and CEO Ryan Pratt expects 2021 to resume pre-pandemic growth trends. The team is completing release of its family of linear ¼ W MMIC PAs for the cellular bands, while testing and sampling a new family of ½ W PAs. Guerrilla RF has designed these GaAs HBT MMICs with high “native” linearity, meaning they can meet cellular linearity masks without digital predistortion (DPD) in many applications, which reduces the power consumption and size of a base station or repeater. Pratt told Microwave Journal that new products on Guerrilla RF’s roadmap will tap silicon on insulator (SOI) and GaN processes.

Hyperlabs was showing their 30 GHz broadband linear amplifier with optimized step response and excellent topline flatness, making it well suited for 32 Gbps NRZ and PAM4 data signaling. It has 13 dB gain, ±3 degree deviation from linear phase and a 1 dB compression point of 13 dBm. Hyperlabs is offering some of the broadest bandwidth parts in the industry.

With corporate travel recently approved, Keysight Technologies sent a marketing team to Atlanta to brief attendees on their expansive portfolio of test and measurement products and PathWave design automation. Watch their videos on the IMS2021 video channel to learn more.

Knowles Precision Devices featured their V-series single layer capacitors, which provide higher capacitance in a small footprint and are well suited for GaN and GaAs amplifier designs. Also, Knowles’ staff discussed applications, i.e., how Knowles’ products can address challenging design issues, such as the importance of filtering power supply noise from modulating RF signals and how bypass capacitors are best used with MMIC amplifiers. Another interesting topic where they have expertise: the need for RF filtering at the 5G mmWave bands and the importance of small footprint, surface-mount filters for phased array antennas.

Micro Harmonics, a developer of ferrite components for mmWave frequencies, featured its circulators and Faraday rotation and cryogenic isolators. As with many small companies inspired by the development of technology, Micro Harmonics’ capabilities have been seeded with Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs, largely from NASA. The company is completing a Phase II SBIR to develop cryogenic mmWave isolators for every standard waveguide band from WR15 (50 to 75 GHz) to WR3.4 (220 to 330 GHz).

Milliwave Silicon Solutions was demonstrating the latest addition to the MilliBox mmWave anechoic chamber and antenna positioner family, the GIM04 positioner. The GIM04 controls three axes from a single USB controller: elevation, azimuth and polarization. The construction enables the positioner to adjust to various DUT form factors, with two depths from the rotation axis to accommodate different thicknesses and form factors. The GIM04 is available in four standard sizes, so changing size is possible as DUT requirements change. 

Mini-Circuits featured several new products at IMS2021. Watch this video summary by Steven Scheinkopf.

Mini-Systems’ glass sidewall packages provide high performance for many RF applications and are used in various applications with stringent specifications, such as military standards, the JEDEC Solid State Technology Association and NASA space qualification.

MixComm used its SUMMIT 2629 beamforming RFIC in a 64 element array to demonstrate a 28 GHz over-the-air link, spanning some 100 ft. across the exhibition hall. Fabricated using GlobalFoundries’ RF SOI process, the SUMMIT 2629 is an eight channel front-end that integrates the PA, LNA, T/R switch and beamformers with memory. The RFIC provides calibration and gain control, with temperature and power sensing, and has a high speed interface for system-level monitoring and control.

Morion US was featuring a new miniature, Rb frequency standard (RFS-M102) that generates a 10 MHz output in a compact 51 mm x 51 mm x 25 mm package. The short-term stability (i.e., Allan Deviation) is <5 x 10-11, temperature stability is better than ±1 x 10-10 and aging is under ±4 x 10-12 per day or ±5 x 10-10 per year.

NSI-MI Technologies introduced the Vector Field Analyzer (VFA) Performance Suite, a harmonized system for fast, accurate RF/microwave field measurements. The suite includes a VFA measurement receiver and Vector Measurement Controller, with microwave signal sources and various position controllers and positioners to mechanically move antennas, field probes and other assemblies. The VFA can test from 10 MHz to 1 THz and offers 10 ns timing resolution and coordinated motion control interfaces, enabling multi-channel phase-coherent RF measurements of electromagnetic fields.

Otava is another new fabless RFIC design house pursuing the emerging mmWave phased array market; however, Otava’s strategy is novel: rather than develop RFICs optimized for each 5G, commercial SatCom or defense mmWave band, Otava has developed a single, wideband RFIC covering 24 to 40 GHz and with the capability to optimize performance on-chip. The OTBF103 is an eight element beamformer RFIC for time-division duplex systems that integrates wideband PAs and LNAs with a beamformer, providing independent channel gain control of 20 dB in 0.5 dB steps and independent phase control of 360 degrees in 5.6 degree steps. The OTBF103 has eight drivers for external T/R switch control, programmable gate drivers for the PA and LNA, power detection and temperature sensing and a high speed interface for system monitoring and control. The RFIC is also fabricated by GlobalFoundries, using its 90 nm SiGe platform.

Pentek, recently acquired by Mercury Systems, was discussing board- and system-level embedded systems for data acquisition, digital signal processing and software-defined radio. Pentek (as well as Mercury Systems) is a member of the Sensors Open Systems Architecture (SOSA) Consortium. Aiming to reduce development time and cost and reduce the risk that subsystems from different organizations may not being interoperable, the SOSA Consortium is advocating an open system reference architecture for military and commercial sensors, developing on modular design and nonproprietary standards for the key interfaces.

Pickering added 67 GHz microwave multiplexers to their PXI/PXIe (models 40/42-785C) and LXI (models 60-800 and 60-803) product families, offering both SP4T and SP6T form factors. These high frequency multiplexers maintain the same physical dimensions as the existing lower frequency products, enabling users to upgrade to 67 GHz while maintaining the same slot count and rack height within the test system. The components exhibit virtually identical performance to 50 GHz compared to existing 50 GHz switches. Applications include military, aerospace, automotive radar, 5G and high frequency communications and semiconductor testing.

Qorvo was represented in Atlanta by RFMW, exhibiting products from across its defense, infrastructure and mobile product lines. These included the QPA0007, a reconfigurable dual-band GaN PA; the QPA2513, a 3.1 to 3.5 GHz, 125 W GaN on SiC PA; the QPM5811, an 8.5 to 10.5 GHz, 0.5 W T/R module; and several cellular, Wi-Fi and Zigbee/Thread/Bluetooth filters, front-ends and RFICs.

RFMW was representing their full line card at IMS2021, particularly important for companies not able to travel to Atlanta. Among the product categories being featured: filters for applications from MHz to mmWave, fabricated with technologies encompassing ceramic, SAW, BAW and proprietary processes from suppliers such as Sangshin Shoulder and Cubic Nuvotronics; semiconductor products from Microsemi and NXP, in addition to Ampleon and Qorvo; and cable assembly, connector and other interconnect products from Carlisle Interconnect Technologies, Delta, P1dB and Rosenberger. Representing the leading suppliers across the RF/microwave product space enables RFMW to help their customers select the best technology and product for the application. Watch a video tour of RFMW’s booth.

Rogers Corporation made a major commitment to being in Atlanta. John Coonrod, the company’s well-known technical marketing manager made two presentations: “Thermal Management for High Frequency Printed Circuit Boards” and “Stripline Circuitry for Millimeter-Wave and Very High Speed Digital.” At its booth, Rogers featured 5G and automotive materials, including XtremeSpeed™ RO1200™ laminates and bondplies, RT/duroid® 6035HTC laminates and the recently launched SpeedWave™ 300P ultra-low loss prepreg. SpeedWave 300P offers thermal reliability for high layer-count designs that have multiple sequential laminations, with superior fill and flow capability around heavy copper features. It is well suited for mmWave applications, whether 5G, 77 GHz automotive radar or aerospace and defense. John Ekis talked with Microwave Journal editor Gary Lerude about new products Rogers is developing for the aerospace and defense markets.

Rohde & Schwarz gave Microwave Journal an informative overview of their extensive line of products for communications, broadcast transmitters, COMINT/ELINT/SIGINT, EMC and over-the-air test facilities, automotive radar, mmWave body scanners and secure voice communications. It is surprising how many markets they are addressing. In the U.S., they have regional offices in Maryland, Texas, California and Oregon, with an expansive 40,000 square foot facility in Coppell, Texas for design, integration and production.

Rosenberger was featuring many cable and connector products, including WSMP coaxial connectors and cable assemblies for high density applications to 100 GHz. The company offers evaluation boards in four configurations: single port NexGen WSMP, 1 x 4 port NexGen WSMP, 2 x 8 channel WSMP and high speed IOF style connectors.

SynMatrix Technologies demonstrated its real-time tuning workflow for complex multi-element filter designs. Integrated with several Rohde & Schwarz VNAs, the SynMatrix software can access the VNA’s configuration and setup controls and has a real-time tuning mode that displays instructions for tuning a filter. The software platform begins with a filter’s design: integrated with HFSS and using AI to optimize the performance.

Although marking its 10-year anniversary, Tagore Technology has largely been in stealth mode, executing its strategy developing products for RF and power electronics using GaN on Si — one of the few companies believing GaN on Si has a play in RF. That premise is worth considering since the company’s principals bring extensive semiconductor experience from Motorola, Freescale, Skyworks and Rockwell, and they have tapped TSMC as their foundry. Tagore Technology’s vision is to offer all the circuit functions used in the RF front-end for land mobile radio, military radio and cellular base stations, with most fabricated in GaN on Si. Its large product catalog reflects this, comprising an extensive line of high power switches, PAs and LNAs, as well as ultra-low noise figure LNAs fabricated in GaAs.

Vaunix was featuring their new 700 MHz to 7.25 GHz RF power dividers and combiners, designed to be used in advanced wireless test stands such as 5G, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6E, MIMO and SIMO. These dividers and combiners have been added to the company’s growing line of standardized, low-cost Lab Brick testing devices and rack mount equipment, with frequency coverage through 40 GHz.

Watch Virginia Diodes demonstrate making D-Band noise figure and gain measurements using VDI’s down-converter, one of several videos recorded at IMS2021. They also worked with Keysight to setup a 144 GHz 6G test bed which they also demoed in their booth. An additional setup was a H-Band S-Parameter Measurement Demo Using a 20 GHz Keysight VNA.

David Danzilio of WIN Semiconductors briefed Microwave Journal on the company’s business and plans. Despite the pandemic, foundry demand has remained strong, largely because of 5G. Overall revenue in 2020 was NTD25.5 billion (approximately $924 million), up 19 percent from 2019. For the most recent quarter, ending March 31, cellular accounted for almost 50 percent of total revenue, with infrastructure and Wi-Fi around 20 percent each. To support continued growth, WIN plans to build a new NTD10 billion wafer fab in the Southern Taiwan Science Park in Kaohsiung. The southern location will reduce the risk of keeping all of WIN’s fab capacity in northern Taiwan. Danzilio said WIN is continuing to improve the performance of its GaN process, and he remains bullish on the competitiveness of its E/D PHEMT process for 5G mmWave infrastructure. While acknowledging that SiGe has taken the lead, he sees systems returning to GaAs as efficiency becomes more important. At the device level, GaAs beats silicon efficiency some 50 percent to 30 percent, according to Danzilio.

As the second and final day of the exhibition, as the exhibitors began to pack up, Microwave Journal’s Pat Hindle and Gary Lerude compared thoughts about IMS2021. What did it feel like to attend the first IMS after the pandemic? How did the low attendance, which was expected, influence everyone’s outlook? Was it worth coming to the show? Watch the conversation. If you attended, what are your thoughts?