Microwave Journal

A Microwave Journey, Part V: The 1990s

November 17, 2008

Past Microwave Journal articles provide a fascinating look at the life and times of our industry and how we have weathered economic and social change. This fifth installment in our series recounts the 1990s, a decade that is still clearly visible in our recent memories. In the world at large, we witnessed the fall of the Soviet Union brought about by the Reagan military build-up of the 1980s. Much of the advanced technology developed for the Cold War would get its first massive public display during the first Gulf War. Terrorists, mostly homegrown ones, would endanger the public with bombings in Oklahoma City, OK, the World Trade Center in New York and Olympic Park in Atlanta, GA. Federal agents raided the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, TX, OJ Simpson went for a televised ride in his white Ford Bronco and his trial became a national obsession, NAFTA got ratified, Germany was re-united, a sheep got cloned and a president got caught being... un-presidential.

With the Cold War nearing an end, defense spending began to drop-off precipitously and guest editorial from industry leaders quickly reflected the concern over the disappearing revenue. Fortunately, the seeds had been planted for faster, higher-capacity data communication as well as mobile personal communication. The massive research and innovation that served the needs of the military would soon be redirected to serve the wireless revolution.

January 1990

The decade starts out without any editorial hint of a pending downturn in military spending. This month featured a special report on Modern Radars and Antennas (still our January theme) by JT Nessmith of the Georgia Tech Research Institute, and four technical articles on other various radars and antenna arrays (two weather radars, an airborne active array and radar antenna testing). The article, “Airborne Active Element Array Radars Come of Age” by RM Lockerd and GE Crain, both of Texas Instruments, examines 25 years of development in active electronically-scanned array (AESA) antennas and praises the evolution of the MMIC and its role in making “X-band active element phased arrays suitable for application in tactical aircraft and other defense systems.” The authors frequently referred to the maturity of AESA technology and how it was the “final step in system efficiency and cost reduction making it the preferred technology for all future multimode radar developments.” Much of the MMIC technology presented went back five years to 1985. In hindsight, the article looks more to the past than the future, which may be the year’s first indication of trouble in this sector.

February 1990

The year was also filled with innovation and the first public display of many new technologies. The February cover featured a new software program called HFSS, an electromagnetic simulator from Hewlett Packard (initially developed by Ansoft and marketed by HP, now Agilent). The cover showed a 3D microwave structure (waveguide to coax adapter) that was characterized by computing Maxwell’s equations to derive a set of S-parameters and field plots. The application note by Alexander Anger of HP introduced the technology to the world. Within a few short years, field visualization and obtaining S-parameters without physical prototype would revolutionize high frequency design.

March 1990

Concern over the changing economics is made clearer in this month’s special report, “Company in Transition: An Interview with Dr. Thomas A. Vanderslice, M/A-COM CEO.” Vanderslice, formerly of Apollo Computer, had just taken the top spot at M/A-COM the previous November. The company had been experiencing problems with some of the non-microwave acquisitions from the mid-70s. Vanderslice was focused on re-structuring the company around the parts that were profitable and divesting those that weren’t. The previous CEO Tom Burke, who had died in an automobile accident in September 1989, believed M/A-COM’s future lied in concentrating on the defense sector. By the time of this interview, Vanderslice was specifically asked how he felt about moving in this direction with “the prospects for the defense budgets as they are.” His response was an acknowledgment that the company would trim its businesses, steer toward the commercial, and keep the businesses that were heavily focused in this area and bring the commercial side up from 20 percent of their overall portfolio to 30 percent. New business would not be in the defense market, but would look to international opportunities and applications such as collision avoidance (automobile), radar speed detection and boating radar (more consumer electronics).

April 1990

Look out JR—Dallas skyscrapers cover the April issue. Our annual IMS coverage featured MTT-S president Tatsuo Itoh authoring a guest editorial, “Merging Technologies for the New Decade.” Itoh had deep roots in the microwave community going back to his school days at the University of Illinois in 1969, research days at Radio Physics Lab in Menlo Park, CA, serving on the faculty at the Universities of Kentucky and Texas, Austin, and guest researcher at AEG-Telefunken among his many credits. The MTT-S president wrote about the symposium’s theme of incorporating diverse technologies into the conference reflecting the variety of disciplines behind the complex microwave systems of the day. In particular, the MTT-S was joining with the Antenna and Propagation Society (APS) and the International Scientific Radio Union (URSI) in scheduling a number of symposia. Also, the Microwave and mm-Wave Monolithic Integrated Circuits Symposium and ARFTG conference were placed closely together on the schedule.

In this issue another simulation technology would grace the pages of Microwave Journal. This time, Steve Maas would present his alternative to the existing nonlinear computer-aided design techniques in an article called, “Analysis and Optimization of Nonlinear Microwave Circuits by Volterra-Series Analysis.” As a seasoned designer, Maas knew the importance of fast simulation times when optimizing circuit performance. His approach attempted to improve simulation speed and efficiency over standard harmonic balance. The technique, which was limited to weakly-coupled nonlinear circuit analysis, would eventually find a home when it became a subset to the simulation engines in Microwave Office a few years later and made a big splash with real-time tuning at the 1998 IMS in Baltimore, MD.

September 1990

This issue took a hard look at the EW market in the ’90s with two special reports: “Not Ready for Plowshares” (subtitled “EW Checks its Vital Signs. Prognosis: Firmer, Leaner, Meaner and in Good Physical Health”) by S. Herskovitz of the Journal of Electronic Defense (a former MWJ sister publication) and “The Microwave Component Industry: Two Views of the Future” by Joseph Saloom of M/A-COM and George Caryotakis of Varian. The first report spelled out the Government Accounting Office’s plan to cut 16,000 DoD jobs in the next year as well as major cut-backs among defense contractors, an estimated 65,000 workers. The scale of the budget cutting (13 major weapon programs, 35 US military bases, 25 percent force reduction by mid-decade) was truly frightening to companies and workers heavily vested in defense spending.

January 1991

For the second time in its history the publisher’s torch was passed. This time Bill Bazzy writes the tribute announcing the “partial retirement”
of Howard Ellowitz and placement of Harlan Howe as the new Publisher/Editor. Howe, a seasoned engineer and microwave text book author, wrote his first editorial as publisher in this issue, outlining his plans to introduce some changes where he felt we could do a better job of reporting while keeping the successful aspects of the magazine unchanged.

As Bill Bazzy states, “We are proud and happy that Harlan has elected to join us. Ensuring that our dependence on military activity can be reduced by moving aggressively into commercial areas of the communications industry will be a major target for Harlan. The convergent technologies that are now providing the marvelous new tools of global networking, high speed data transport, mobile and cellular techniques and wireless communications are developing opportunities of great promise for the industry’s expansion into commercial opportunities.” Along with the Internet, the public was interested in technology for personal use and thus the opportunity for commercial applications was as ripe as ever. Howe would be the face of the Journal during these transformative years about to reshape the industry and technology affecting our day to day lives.

Figure 1 Raytheon Patriot anti-missile system.

Encouraged by individual governments and new corporate investment, a re-direction of technology away from military applications and toward commercial ones would become a global effort. Systems developed during the Cold War for defense purposes would be seen by the public for the first time during the Gulf War, marked by quick victory and the performance of smart weapons. Advance guidance systems and mobile communication would awaken many to what applied microwave technology could achieve. Millions of Americans witnessed Raytheon’s anti-Scud Patriot system (see Figure 1) during a live TV coverage of a missile attack on Riyadh during operation Desert Storm. Despite some controversy over the true effectiveness of this system in downing the incoming missile, Raytheon would capitalize on this seeming success with a Microwave Journal advertisement reminding readers of their contribution in fighting the “evil one” (see Figure 2). The event and analysis of the technology used in this conflict was reported by contributing editor Howard Bierman in “Microwave and mm-Wave Technology: The Brains Behind Smart Weapons.” Bierman also wrote some months later about another bright spot for the industry in his special report, “The Defense Budget Shrinks, but Electronics Gains Larger Share.”

Figure 2 Raytheon ad from Microwave Journal in 1991.

And yet the scramble to find new commercial opportunities was on as Howe reported in December in “The 1991 (Microwave Hybrid Circuit) MHC Conference Stresses Commercial Transition.” No specific direction for the industry was offered at the conference, yet keynote speaker Bill Jones, VP at Westinghouse, suggested companies take greater consideration of their core competencies rather than specific products when deciding which commercial markets to pursue. Guided by Harlan’s editorial mandate, Journal contributors offered some their own advice in the new Commercial Applications Series, which was launched as a monthly feature in 1991. Notable articles presented emerging commercial opportunities in personal communication, motor vehicle and highway automation, microwave heating in medicine, a “roaring” DBS receiver market, and mobile satellite communication for consumers.

January 1993

Keeping with the editorial directive to focus on commercial opportunities, Microwave Journal expanded the commercial applications series to include lightwave applications. The Commercial Application Series article for this issue was a special report on the European Market for Digital Cellular

Communications. Contributing International Editor Guy Daniels wrote, “Of all the varied commercial markets for microwave and near-microwave technologies, personal communications seem to hold the greatest potential. This year sees the official commencement of the single European market, which brings with it the lowering of trade barriers, free consumption and economic unity. It is also the year when digital cellular communications are set to take off in Europe.” Daniels continued in great detail discussing the roll-out plan by the group special mobile or GSM for worldwide digital cellular communications.

Interest in lightwaves and fiber optics had been appearing in Microwave Journal for over a decade as long haul telecommunications was looking to address the growing need for network capacity. Fiber optic communication was developed for commercial use in the early 1980s, operating at 1.3 mm using InGaAsP semiconductor lasers. By 1987, these systems were operating at bit rates of up to 1.7 Gb/s with repeater spacing up to 50 km. As Hugo Vifian of Hewlett-Packard noted in his article, “From Microwave to Lightwave,” “The transition from microwaves to lightwaves has been a natural and fruitful development. Affinities between the two fields are presenting microwave engineers with many opportunities to expand the technology.” This particular article went on to discuss optical measurements. Other topics in this series would include: Mode-locked semiconductor lasers, Photonic CAD, Optoelectronic mm-wave sources and Digital Transmitters.

April 1993

Ken Carr of Microwave Medical Systems Inc. continued our reporting on the shift from military to commercial applications with a special report entitled, “A Company’s Transition from the Military to the Commercial Marketplace.” Carr pointed out that despite the success of the technology that grew out of military necessity (and government investment), the US was experiencing the greatest slowdown in R&D since the early 1970s. Carr pointed out that “while twenty years previous the US produced 94 percent of its electronics, in 1993 it imported 94 percent.” The author then pointed to underinvestment in engineering and manufacturing technology, the mean culprit being lack of funding. He compared his effort to build a new start-up company in 1993 with his role co-founding Ferrotec in 1970, which was later acquired by Microwave Associates. His experience taught him that, “the idea that all it takes is brains, perseverance and luck is nice, but very outdated. It now takes a great deal of money.” The author directed readers toward private (venture capital firms) and public (Small Business Innovation Research—SBIR) funds. Unfortunately, the dire situation of declining American competitiveness in business depicted in this article is still up for debate today.

July 1993

Several items of note in this, the Journal’s 35-year anniversary issue. A special report from Harlan Howe and Christine Blanchard on “Dual-use Technologies: Defense Technology Conversion, Reinvestment and Transition” discussed the government agencies and programs being directed by the Clinton White House to “stimulate the transition to a growing, integrated, national industrial capability that provides both the most advanced affordable military systems, as well as the most competitive commercial products.” The official title of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) program was Technology Reinvestment Project (TRP), but it was more commonly known as “dual-use” or “Operation Restore Jobs.” The timing to redirect the technical community couldn’t have been better. From the 30 million cellular phones in use at the time, in ten years after this article was written there will be 159 million cell phone users. Strikingly close to the 150 million predicting in a M/A-COM advertisement running in this same issue.

March 1995

A special report, “Get onto the World Wide Web - Now,” introduced the new Microwave Journal web site and many readers to the web itself. The article bears witness to the primitive early days of the “world wide web” as basic web concepts such as hypertext links, mouse-based systems, point and click, browser and cyberspace are explained to our readers. The author tried to educate readers on service providers (limited e-mail or newsgroups to “full service ones”) and browsers (Mosaic was described as the archetypical browser). The author recommended users get a fast modem to “connect the computer to the telephone line” (a 9600 bps was bottom of the line, 28.8 kps or ISDN “should be seriously considered”). At the time, “server computers on the Net were generally connected with either a T1 (1.54 mbps) or a T3 (45 mbps) high speed network link.”

June 1995

The term “RFIC” may or may not have yet been coined at this point, but the special report by Robert Clarke of Analog Devices, “RF and IC Designers: Two Professions Separated by an Uncommon Language,” suggested the time was near. The author wrote, “Are RF and IC designers two different species? Or are they the same species and just practicing two different religions? Let’s consider their beliefs. RF engineers proclaim the gospel according to Armstrong and the mysteries of Maxwell’s equations and Faraday’s law. They speak of the glories of power and impedance. On the other hand, IC designers chant the mantra of Ohm. They mediate on the teachings of Volta, Ampere, Haynes, Shockley, and Bardeen.” The editor’s instruction discussed the disappearance of bulky microwave components as more and more products take chip form and became hidden inside little SOIC packages. His message was clear: “The industry must once again embrace change.” Within a year, CMOS RFIC designs and applications would be well represented among the technical features appearing frequently.

September 1995

Howe’s note from the publisher, “Five Years—What a Difference,” commented on the many changes he witnessed in the industry since talking the helm. He touched upon the facts that in 1990 the industry markets were 80 percent military and that the anticipated downturn was much deeper than anyone had anticipated. Yet, despite the layoffs, mergers, acquisitions and business failures in 1991 and 1992, the industry had found commercial markets and re-structured companies had been able to grow. By 1995, 80 percent of the industry was working in commercial applications. Howe reflected on a much improved atmosphere at the most recent MTT-S exhibitions and noted that the technical revolution had even touched the publishing business as the Microwave Journal was now fully produced electronically.

January 1998

This issue included a special section with technical features on MMIC-based Double-Y Baluns, SAW IF filters and an ALGaAs/GaAs HBT Transceiver chip for wireless applications along with reports from the Wireless/Portable by Design Exhibition. The wireless term encompassed a wide range of technologies that included cellular and cordless phones, wireless networks (WLAN), Bluetooth, GPS, satellite television and many others. The published articles throughout the year reflected the industry’s attention toward specific applications, standards, modulation schemes and competing semiconductor technologies. Attention turned to every other component in the wireless radio, including the antenna, all RF/microwave passives, chip packaging, PCB design and filters.

Driven by the demands of the wireless systems covered in the early issues of 1998 (and previous years), the need to focus on individual component performance was evident by the scope and depth of the technology described in this year’s technical articles. The effort to shift microwave engineering away from the military and toward commercial opportunities yielded impressive research in all areas of hardware design and supporting activities such as simulation and test.

With this shift to commercial wireless, devices and related articles shifted from broad to narrow frequency bands and device performance was increasingly tied to specific applications such as power amps for GSM handsets, IF ASICs for CDMA cellular/PCS telephones, phase-locked loops for CDMA, GaAs HBT transceiver for PHS cordless phones, CDMA RFIC upconverters, and driver amps for PCS base stations.

The quest for high power amplification, once the realm of TWTs, was now being fought among MESFET, pHEMT, HBTs and LDMOS, silicon, GaAs, InP and SiGe. In addition to power, many amplifier papers concerned themselves with monitoring and improving linearity. Featured papers included: “Digital Data Signal Spectral Side Lobe Regrowth in Soft Saturating Amplifiers,” “1.9 GHz Feed-forward Adaptive Amplifier,” “Linear RF Power Amplifier Design for CDMA” and “Spectral Containment by Pre-distortion of OQPSK Signal.” From a financial perspective, the Microwave Journal commercial markets update would report on the favorable business climate for many RFIC companies whose stocks at the time were soaring.

February 1998

Another recurring commercial application in 1998 was the GPS system, which was discussed in articles such as “Quadrafilar Helical Antenna for Low Elevation GPS,” “An Integrated GPS Receiver RF Front End,” “GPS Frequency and Time Standards,” “A GPS Chipset with Low Power Consumption” and a special report on “GPS in 10 Years.” Karl Kovach of ARINC Inc. and Karen Van Dyke of the US Department of Transportation predicted that enhancements to GPS, removal of Selective Availability (SA) combined with user equipment would improve accuracy, integrity and availability of GPS. What was truly fascinating about this article was their explanation (in easy to understand terms) of how the system functioned in 1998, what its limitations were (from a user perspective) and what the plan was to upgrade the system into what we experience today.

October 1998

A special report by Rob Van Brunt on “Third-Generation Wireless Test Requirements” looked toward the future of mobile communications. Test manufacturers were among the first to deliver products to market for these new standards. The author spelled out the goals for the IMT-2000 system that was, according to his article, “still several years away.” The principle challenge in deployment cited in the article was the issue of graceful evolution from existing 1G and 2G systems. This challenge was perhaps greater than anyone at the time, including the author anticipated. However, 80 percent of the European population would be covered by 2005 and by December 2007, 190 3G networks in 40 countries would be operational.


It was a watershed decade for the industry, perhaps more than any other. Businesses were put under intense pressure to become lean and efficient in the wake of an all but disappearing military market. Companies that were able to re-focus their core competencies toward commercial applications not only stemmed their bleeding, but were able to grow significantly by mid-decade. Where 80 percent of companies manufactured for military end-use in 1990, that same percentage would claim to manufacture mostly for commercial applications by the end of the decade. Encouraged by the government, companies would embrace the notion of dual-use components.

Simulation technology would take great strides in capability and change the way we designed forever, while semiconductor process technology made CMOS viable at radio frequencies and allowed new HEMT and HBT technologies to co-exist on a single IC. These innovations ignited the wireless revolution and made personal communication applications and mobile handsets possible. In the 1990s the microwave industry would answer that Verizon guy’s question, “Can you hear me now?” with a resounding, “Loud and clear.”