Germany: A Driving Force in the European Microwave Industry
With this year’s European Microwave Week (EuMW) taking place for the first time in the German capital, Berlin, whose Brandenburg Gate is shown in Figure 1, we turn the spotlight onto the German RF and microwave industry. Berlin holds a unique place in Europe’s history and that of the world. June 24, 2023, marked the 75th anniversary of the start of the Berlin airlift (in German, “Berliner Luftbrücke”). This was a heroic year-long operation carried out by the U.S., the U.K. and France, along with several other countries. This effort delivered food and supplies to the people of West Berlin who had been cutoff from land-based routes due to a Soviet Union blockade. This was only one episode in a remarkable history that includes the momentous toppling of the Berlin Wall1 in November 1989 and the reunification of Germany the following year.
PLANES AND AUTOMOBILES
Germany is the largest economy in the EU and the fifth largest globally by GDP per capita. It has strengths across several sectors, particularly in automotive, where the Volkswagen Audi Group, BMW and Mercedes are all world-leading brands. Aerospace is also a strong sector, with multinational manufacturer Airbus having sizable operations in 27 locations across Germany, including Hamburg, Ulm and Manching. Airbus was formed as EADS in 2000 by the merger of DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (Deutsche Aerospace/DASA) with Aérospatiale-Matra of France and CASA of Spain. Airbus’ Hamburg facility is the third largest site in the global aviation industry, overseeing the A320 jet aircraft program.
Airbus’ predecessor, DASA, was also responsible for much of the early development of 77 GHz automotive radar for adaptive cruise control in vehicles that allowed Mercedes-Benz to introduce Distronic onto the S-Class (W220) in 1998-99.2
We must mention Holger Meinel, one of the leading figures in the microwave industry, not only in Germany but worldwide. Meinel was one of the founders of the European Microwave Association and in the mid-1990s was instrumental in setting up EuMW in its current form.3 At EuMW in Milan in 2002, Meinel was awarded the Certificate of Appreciation by EuMA for his contributions to EuMC and EuMW. Meinel is shown in Figure 2 at IMS2023 after receiving the prestigious IEEE Transportation Technologies Award for developing and promoting the application of mmWave technology in transportation systems. His work in automotive radar dates to the 1970s, when as a young research and development (R&D) engineer at AEG-Telefunken, a forerunner to DASA, he started to design components for a 35 GHz collision avoidance radar.
DEFENSE AND AEROSPACE
HENSOLDT is a multinational corporation headquartered in Taufkirchen, near Munich. They originally spun out of Airbus in 2017, acquiring British radar manufacturer Kelvin Hughes later that year. HENSOLDT focuses on sensor technologies for protection and surveillance in defense, security and aerospace applications. Among its products are radar systems for surveillance, reconnaissance, air traffic control and air defense, with HENSOLDT radars being deployed on platforms including the Eurofighter Typhoon, the German Navy’s F125 frigates and the U.S. Navy’s littoral combat ships and ground-based systems. Its ground-based air defense sensors include TRML-3D and TRML-4D.
In May 2023, it was reported that HENSOLDT Sensors had successfully modernized the core test systems of COBRA, an artillery location radar used by several NATO armies. Under a multi-million-euro contract, HENSOLDT replaced the radar target generator and the COBRA Radar Environment Simulator, both key elements of the radar’s test environment.4
Dassault Systèmes, a European multinational software corporation, acquired Darmstadt-based CST AG in 2016. CST Studio Suite is now under Dassault Systèmes’ SIMULIA brand, and has been integrated into its 3DEXPERIENCE platform. The 2023 release introduces enhanced capabilities for its modeling, meshing and high frequency solver technologies, including improved antenna array design and placement, hybrid solutions, filter design automation and non-parametric optimization for high frequency applications, as well as improved radar response analysis and channel impulse response.
TEST AND MEASUREMENT
No review of the German microwave market would be complete without mentioning Rohde & Schwarz, Europe’s leading manufacturer of RF and microwave test and measurement equipment. The company was founded in 1933 with its headquarters in Munich, as well as an R&D center in Berlin. Over the past three decades, Rohde & Schwarz has been a leader in developing the standards for successive generations of mobile communications and participating in standards bodies from GSM to 5G. Its product range includes testers for all the main wireless standards including Wi-Fi. Rohde & Schwarz is developing new waveforms for 6G, including characterizing how they perform in real environments.
Their latest announcement, at MWC Shanghai, was a collaboration with Qualcomm to test GSO and GEO satellite chipsets to 3GPP Release 17.5 In June, Rohde & Schwarz also described a joint project, carried out with Fujikura and Avnet to validate CATR OTA systems for testing 5G mmWave phased array antennas in an R&D environment. The validation used the R&S ATS800B benchtop CATR OTA test system shown in Figure 3 to measure EIRP and EIS in addition to traditional radiation patterns.
In addition to being the leading provider of RF drive testing equipment and services, along with measurement systems for 4G and 5G mobile handsets and infrastructure, Rohde & Schwarz manufactures mmWave airport security scanners. The R&S QPS Quick Personnel Security Scanner will be familiar to frequent air travelers. It operates at 70 to 80 GHz at a power level around 1 mW and automatically detects potentially dangerous items carried on the body or in clothing with data acquisition times less than 32 msec. The scanner is used for airport security checks, security at high threat potential public events and access control at security-related facilities.
VALIDATING ELECTRIC VEHICLE TECHNOLOGY
Spanning the gap between the test and measurement and automotive markets is dSPACE, which specializes in simulation and validation for networked, autonomous and electrically powered vehicles. Its product range targets automotive manufacturers and their suppliers for testing both software and hardware components. The key systems requiring microwave testing, particularly as self-driving vehicles evolve, are the radar sensors that capture height, distance and speed information. The dSPACE Automotive Radar Test System (DARTS) 9040-GT, introduced in December 2022 and represented in Figure 4, is the latest in a product family of radar target simulators for testing automotive 4D sensors. It offers precise simulation with high resolution of two separate radar targets that approach from different angles, or are located at different distances but at the same angles, with an instantaneous bandwidth covering the entire 5 GHz of the automotive E-Band. This replaces the previous test method that required two separate target-generating instruments and it supports the development of radar systems that need to meet strict separation capability requirements.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Germany benefits from a strong R&D infrastructure with world-class universities and organizations like the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, a world-leading applied research organization. Founded in 1949 and named after Munich researcher and inventor Joseph von Fraunhofer, the organization runs 76 institutes and research units throughout Germany. It employs 30,800 people, mostly scientists and engineers and has an annual research budget of around €3.0 billion. A recognized non-profit organization, much of Fraunhofer’s €2.6 billion research income is generated from industry contracts and publicly funded research projects, with additional funding from the German federal and state governments.
The Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques (FHR), based in Wachtberg, will be exhibiting at EuMW 2023. Earlier this year, FHR restructured into three new divisions to better tailor research and development services to the needs of its customers and partners. These divisions are multifunctional RF and radar systems; radar for space situational awareness and industrial high frequency systems.
TERAHERTZ AND SUB-MILLIMETER
Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics (Fraunhofer IAF), based in Freiburg, is the main location for the organization’s work on compound semiconductors. At this year’s EuMW, Fraunhofer IAF will present its ICs for terahertz (THz) frequencies up to 670 GHz, as well as sub-mmWave circuits and modules with potential applications beyond 5G and precise distance measurement. THz waves can penetrate obstacles like smoke, dust, fog and clothing, even from several hundreds of meters. This presents a wide range of potential applications for the ICs, including high data rate communications, avionics and satellite earth observation, along with security applications like concealed weapons detection. The chips are based on InAlAs/InGaAs mHEMT transistors with cutoff frequencies over 1 THz. They are grown on 4 in. GaAs substrates with gate lengths of 20 nm. They will display metamorphic InGaAs-based MMICs and amplifier modules with a noise figure of 2 dB in W-Band and 6 dB at 340 GHz. In addition, mmWave directional radio links operating between 30 and 300 GHz based on Fraunhofer MMICs offering transfer rates of over 100 Gbit/s over distances of more than 30 km will be shown.
ACST is a specialist THz company, spun out of Technische Universität Darmstadt (TUD) in April 2006 to commercialize Schottky diodes for mmWave and THz applications. During the past decade, it has been involved in more than 20 R&D projects supported by the European Space Agency, the EC (FP7 & H2020), the German government and industrial partners. With core competencies in component fabrication technology and RF engineering, the company specializes in the development of custom products and services.
The Leibniz Institute for High Performance Microelectronics (IHP) in Frankfurt was founded in 1983 as an institute of the Academy of Sciences but became a limited company in 1992. It is now focused on the integration of SiGe BiCMOS technologies and developing prototype devices with 500 GHz fmax for applications like wireless and broadband communication, security, medical technology, aerospace, mobility and industrial automation.
TELECOMS RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Another Fraunhofer site, the Heinrich-Hertz-Institut (HHI) near Berlin, launched F5G OpenLab at MWC in Barcelona in March. F5G OpenLab is a test and experimentation facility aimed at making data communications more sustainable by promoting optical fiber-based fifth generation fixed networks and advancing the validation of technologies defined by ETSI. Fraunhofer HHI is also involved in 6G research, including how 6G services can improve healthcare by providing functions like telehealth monitoring, robotics, augmented reality and responsive exoskeletons.
Last year, Fraunhofer HHI instituted a real-time-capable communication infrastructure for testing industrial applications in one of the first operational 5G standalone campus networks in Germany. It is intended to be a test environment for future edge cloud applications in Industry 4.0. Research teams will also use the infrastructure to develop network technologies enabling 6G and a future open 5G/6G ecosystem.
Germany also has a significant presence in the mobile infrastructure OEM market. Although headquartered in Finland, Nokia Networks was formed in 2006 as a joint venture between Nokia and Germany’s Siemens. It originally traded as Nokia Siemens Networks before shortening to its current name when Nokia bought out the Siemens stake in 2013. It subsequently acquired another European rival, Alcatel-Lucent, in 2015.
Nokia retains the large former Siemens telecoms site in Munich. The Nokia Digitalization & Technology hub there has employees belonging to almost all the Nokia business units, including a team of scientists and experts from Bell Labs. The main research activities at Bell Labs Munich center on 6G mobile networks, security, data analytics and network architectures, with close collaboration with the local Nokia Standards team that is working on leading-edge network technologies and systems research.
In June 2023, the European Commission approved a new Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI) to “support research, innovation and the first industrial deployment of microelectronics and communication technologies across the value chain.” This latest €8.1 billion project, called IPCEI ME/CT, follows from the original IPCEI, set up to support research and innovation in microelectronics and approved by the Commission in December 2018. Germany is a major participant in both projects, along with 13 other EU member states.
The IPCEI ME/CT projects aim at creating innovative microelectronics and communication solutions and energy-efficient manufacturing methods to enable digital and green transformation. They address several sectors, including 5G and 6G communications, autonomous driving, artificial intelligence and quantum computing. The new IPCEI involves 68 projects from 56 companies, closely cooperating through more than 180 envisaged cross-border collaborations.
Unique in Europe, Germany is exceptionally strong in semiconductor manufacturing. Germany’s automotive industry was badly affected by the chip shortage of the past two years and securing the supply chain is of national importance.
Global Foundries has its Fab 1 in Dresden, Saxony, which was its first chip foundry after spinning out of AMD in 2008. It is now just one of a growing cluster of large-scale fabs in the Dresden area.
Bosch is a major supplier of chips to the automotive industry with semiconductor fabs in Reutlingen and Dresden, with Dresden shown in Figure 5, opening in June 2021. Products planned for the €1 billion Dresden fab include systems-on-a-chip for 360-degree radar sensors for automated driving. Both the Bosch Dresden fab and the latest upgrades to the Reutlingen fab are being supported by funds from the IPCEI.
Three of X-Fab’s six fabs are in Germany. Erfurt, in the central state of Thuringia, manufactures digital as well as RF and analog ICs on its 12-in. 1.0 μm, 0.8 μm and 0.6 μm CMOS mixed-signal processes. Dresden has a 350 nm analog/mixed-signal CMOS process (XH035) running on 8-in. wafers alongside earlier generation standard and customer-specific mixed-signal CMOS processes and an RF-MEMS foundry making variable capacity RF switches is located in Itzehoe, near Hamburg.
Franco-German collaboration UMS, originally formed in 1996 as a collaboration between DASA and Thales of France, has a site in Ulm that houses GaAs and GaN technology development and production. In June, UMS launched its CHA6262-99F, a three-stage GaN PA operating in the 17.3 to 21.5 GHz range with 4 W typical output power and 36 percent PAE, designed for space applications and a range of other microwave systems.
NEW SEMICONDUCTOR INVESTMENTS
Taiwanese semiconductor giant TSMC is in advanced negotiations to build a new fab in Dresden, which is expected to cost up to €10 billion ($10.7 billion).6 TSMC has been attracted by assistance available under the EU Chips Act, under which Europe plans to spend €43 billion ($46.07 billion) to subsidize a doubling in chipmaking capacity by 2030. Also in Dresden, Infineon has approval7 to begin building a €5 billion semiconductor plant scheduled to start production in 2026, which the company says would be the largest single investment in its history and would create around 1,000 jobs.
On the western side of Germany, Wolfspeed is reportedly planning a €3 billion SiC plant in Saarland8 mainly for use in electric vehicles, making this the biggest SiC production facility in the world. Meanwhile, Intel is spending more than €30 billion to develop two fabs in Magdeburg, central Germany, for which it will receive €10 billion of subsidies from Germany, creating 3,000 jobs at the company as well as tens of thousands more jobs with suppliers and partners.9
COMPONENTS AND SOFTWARE ROUNDUP
Other German vendors exhibiting at EuMW 2023 include:
AFT Microwave, based in Backnang, specializes in custom ferrite-based microwave components such as circulators, insulators and loads, ferrite material, thin film circuits and passive components and subsystems.
AXTAL GmbH, a German manufacturer of low phase noise frequency control products was founded 20 years ago and acquired at the start of this year by Q-Tech Corporation, a U.S.-based supplier of high-reliability crystal oscillators. The combined product portfolios offer a range of crystal oscillators including XO TCXO, MCXO and OCXO quartz oscillators, including crystal oscillators designed for space applications from LEO, MEO and GEO to deep space.
Becker Nachrichtentechnik GmbH in Asbach specializes in the development and manufacturing of modules, devices and systems including wideband amplifiers and signal distribution for broadcast, trunked radio, air traffic control and satellite navigation and air interface emulation for mobile and wireless networks up to 10 GHz.
Biconex GmbH in Radeberg offers metal-plated polymers for shielded housings, RF antennas, filters and other components requiring strong resistance to wear.
IMST GmbH is an engineering company and system house in Kamp-Lintfort, specializing in radio systems technology, chip design, antennas and EDA software for customer-specific developments. It also offers an accredited test laboratory for product approvals.
Kuhne Electronic GmbH is a manufacturer of power amplifiers (PAs), LNAs, signal sources and antennas for amateur radio.
KVG Quartz Crystal Technology GmbH is a manufacturer of crystal oscillators based in Neckarbischofsheim.
LPKF Laser & Electronics AG manufactures laser manufacturing and printed circuit board (PCB) prototyping solutions with headquarters in Hanover.
Mician GmbH in Bremen sells the μWave Wizard, a full wave 3D electromagnetic design automation suite for the development of passive microwave systems and components, including antennas.
Micro Systems Technologies is a group of companies, based mostly in Germany, with a range of LTCC substrate and packaging technologies, PCBs and hermetic feedthroughs.
Rosenberger Hochfrequenztechnik GmbH is the main company of the Rosenberger Group with its headquarters in Bavaria, Germany and other manufacturing locations around the world. It provides a range of standard and custom RF, high voltage and fiber optic connectivity products.
Siglent Technologies GmbH in Augsburg manufactures a range of test and measurement equipment, including waveform generators, spectrum analyzers, vector network analyzers, oscilloscopes and RF generators.
Silicon Radar GmbH, based in Frankfurt, develops standard and customer-specific MMICs for a wide range of radar applications, including a 24 GHz radar front-end. It has recently been acquired by Indie Semiconductor.
SPINNER GmbH is headquartered in Munich, with a 75-year history of making RF products. With manufacturing facilities around the world, its products include cables, connectors and rotary joints for applications such as communications, broadcast, measurement, satellite, space and radar.
Würth Elektronik Group, with its headquarters in Waldenburg, comprises companies in Germany and around the world that manufacture RF electromechanical components, PCBs and intelligent power and control systems.
Via Electronic GmbH in Hermsdorf manufactures high performance LTCC substrates.