Phased Array Antennas & The Roadmap to 5G Wireless   Jul. 11, 2017

As the market and media hype around 5G continues to grow, there is a tacit acknowledgement that we have miles to go before 5G becomes a reality. Initial industry standards for 5G aren’t expected to be ratified until Summer 2018 at the earliest, and there are many regulatory issues and a myriad of technology challenges still to be resolved before 5G is ready for mainstream commercialization.

Yet, despite these daunting challenges, the promised benefits of 5G are so profound that one can’t help but get excited about it. Improved mobile phone connectivity is just the tip of the iceberg when one considers 5G’s implications for transportation, industrial and entertainment applications, among many others. In a recent whitepaper from industry research firm IHS Markit, 5G is heralded as the catalyst that will vault mobile technology into the realm of general-purpose technologies (GPTs) that drastically alter society, à la the printing press, the steam engine and electricity.

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An overview of the markets and applications impacted by 5G (image above courtesy of Nokia)

MIMO vs Massive MIMO

Achieving the promise of 5G will require, among other things, major innovations in the way basestations are architected. Today we rely on multiple input, multiple output – or MIMO – antennae configurations to multiply the capacity of antennae links for wireless basestations. These antennas provide the ability to concentrate signal strength into smaller areas of space, boosting overall efficiency and throughput by guiding the signal to the precise location it’s needed. By adding additional antennas, this beamforming capability is improved.

But whereas conventional basestations may house between two and eight antennas, 5G basestations will need anywhere from 64 to hundreds of antennas arrayed in a “massive MIMO” configuration to provide the requisite data rates. This phased array antennae design comprises an active electronically scanned array (AESA), which enables signals to be electronically steered with much greater beamforming precision than MIMO can support today.

High-Performance, Low Cost Active Antennas

When it comes to the architecture and assembly of massive MIMO 5G systems, we see many parallels with the new generation of Multifunction Phased Array Radar (MPAR) active antennae systems targeted for use for military and civil air traffic control, and weather system tracking applications. And while you might not typically associate this class of radar system with cost-sensitive commercial applications like 5G, you might be surprised to learn that MPAR technology leverages design and manufacturing efficiencies that dramatically reduce the cost of the end system.

First generation MPAR systems feature an array of Scalable Planar Array (SPAR™) Tiles in a flat panel configuration comprised of hundreds to thousands of active antennas. SPAR Tile technology, developed in a collaboration between MACOM and MIT Lincoln Laboratory, embodies a new cost-conscious approach to phased array radar system development, leveraging highly-integrated antenna sub-systems, and volume scale commercial packaging and manufacturing techniques.



First generation MPAR systems leverage an array of Scalable Planar Array (SPAR) Tiles – shown above

Tile-based AESAs create the foundation for a new generation of high-performance, agile radar systems that can be built quickly and flexibly tailored and scaled for deployment across a range of applications – at 5X less cost than conventional slat array architectures. Continued innovations in phased-array-based technologies like MPAR will help to unlock the full promise of 5G, allowing basestation OEMs to simplify design and manufacturing processes, and get to market faster with 5G technology.

To learn more about the benefits of MPAR technology for 5G, check out this article in Microwave Product Digest. For a deep-dive read on the MPAR technology architecture, head over to Microwave Journal

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The Future of Cloud Data Center Markets and What Passive Optical Networks Can Teach Us   Jun. 27, 2017

DCPONBlog.jpg (694828330)Cloud Data Centers are growing rapidly. One analyst’s report found that major cloud providers expect to triple infrastructure by 2020. This growth is fueled by increasing bandwidth demands but comes along with the need to reduce power consumption and control costs. As Cloud Data Centers grow, Cloud Data Center networking architecture must evolve efficiently and effectively meet the demand for bandwidth capacity while maximizing throughput speeds and lowering the average cost-per-bit. 

From Copper Cable to Passive Optical Networks (PONs) 

Passive Optical Networks (PONs) represent a significant leap forward from traditional copper cable networks. PONs offer broader reach, and faster and more secure data transfers at a lower cost. Fiber optic cables used by PONs are smaller than copper cables, require less space, and are able to carry more data. This approach reduces power consumption and lowers facilities, equipment, installation, and maintenance costs. Since PONs are easier to maintain, and fiber optic cables are physically more secure than copper cable, security is enhanced, there is reduced downtime and breakage, and the ability to withstand malicious attacks is increased. 

Applying the Lessons Learned from PONs to Cloud Data Center Infrastructure 

Cloud Data Center growth is increasing at a rapid pace. In 2014, Google spent $10 billion on building new Cloud Data Centers, and another $10 billion on maintaining existing Cloud Data Centers. As reported by The Government Accountability Office, it is estimated that the United States government spends $81 billion a year across all IT expenditures, including mission critical computing systems some of which are more than half a century old. Modernizing these systems to maximize efficiency and lower costs thus represents an enormous market opportunity for manufacturers of the technologies that help Cloud Data Center operators achieve these goals.                                            

Demand for bandwidth capacity is driven by media generation and consumption trends, including photos and videos on social media; a shift to viewing Over-the-Top content; and developing augmented reality for gaming and advertising. Bandwidth demand also comes from sources such as e-commerce, the increased collection and analysis of data across industries and institutions, the growth of data sets to petabytes in size, and the growing Internet of things (IOT). It’s no longer just computers and phones, everything from televisions to tractors are now connected to the Internet. 

PONs provide a blueprint for transforming Cloud Data Center architecture into networks that are capable of handling more data at faster data speeds and lower cost.

The Next Generation of PONs and the Future of Cloud Data Centers 

Given the nearly insatiable demand for increased connectivity and higher throughput, there is a multi-billion-dollar opportunity to provide network component solutions to Cloud Data Centers. Building on current expertise in PONs, the next generation of market-leading Cloud Data Center networking technologies such as optical networking, optical transceivers, and silicon photonics with integrated self-aligning Etched Facet Technology (EFT) lasers (SAEFT™) are being developed. 

In addition to bandwidth demands, cost considerations are also driving opportunities in providing solutions to Cloud Data Centers. Cloud Data Center operators seek to maximize speed and throughput at the lowest cost-per-bit possible. Breakthroughs in optical networking target this goal. PONs demonstrated that it is possible to meet scale and cost requirements via efficient optics technologies. Cloud Data Centers can achieve their cost, speed, and efficiency goals by applying these principles. 

Similarly, EFT technology will transform optical connectivity within Cloud Data Centers, enabling the cost efficiencies and hyper scale growth agility necessary to keep pace with an estimated five trillion gigabytes of annual Cloud Data Center traffic – a number that will continue to skyrocket as millions of new users join the cloud-connected apps economy and IoT. By leveraging technologies and solutions such as MACOM’s EFT laser technology, and L-PICTM transmitters enabled by EFT and SAEFT, along with commercial scale manufacturing capability, Cloud Data Center opportunities can be capitalized on by replicating the cost structure reductions that have been achieved in Passive Optical Networks. 

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Designing for RF Energy Applications, Made Easy   Jun. 14, 2017

RFEToolkit.jpgGallium Nitride (GaN) technology is having a disruptive effect in the microwave and radio frequency (RF) industry, bringing to the table the ideal combination of high-performance and low cost. GaN-on-Silicon (GaN-on-Si), in particular, is set to take advantage of economies of scale and offer customers comparable price points to LDMOS at scaled volume production levels, while still achieving GaN on Silicon Carbide (SiC)-like performance.

These breakthroughs mean that GaN is progressively finding its way into new markets, perhaps most notably RF energy applications for cooking, industrial heating, plasma lighting and medical applications. These applications use controlled electromagnetic radiation to heat items or to drive processes. Bulky, brute force magnetron tubes that are currently used to generate this energy will soon be replaced by a solid-state RF system – delivering flexibility, control and a new level of system reliability that will enable many new use cases.

The efficiency of GaN is typically 10% better than LDMOS or more, which translates into significant energy savings when your power level might be 600W or higher.  On top of this, the extra efficiency translates into better overall system reliability. GaN is also easier to design with than LDMOS, and creates more reproducible results. It can be used successfully at all ISM frequency bands such as 433MHz, 915MHz and 2.45GHz and even in the ISM band at 5.8GHz.

Optimizing the Design Process

Look at traditional RF applications, for example cellular networks, that have architectures which have been around for at least 15 years. Engineers know the standard transistors and components for these inside out. They don’t require much assistance to go and build their own systems, regardless of the technology.

In newer RF energy applications, it’s more or less the same technologies and the same transistors. But, inevitably, engineers in these fields may not have as much RF experience, and there’s potentially a gap in technical knowledge. To keep investment down and get to market quickly, designers can benefit from an improved process to control the transistors to generate energy, and how to drive that energy into their application – making design easier, and speeding time to market.

Accelerating Time to Market

To help engineers create RF energy applications, MACOM is putting together an RF Energy Designer Toolkit, which combines multiple components in a pre-integrated and tested kit.

MACOM’s RF Energy Toolkit packages our various GaN-on-Si transistors, the MACOM GaN-on-Si RF energy sources, with a MACOM control system on the front end. This is delivered with a software package that gives the designer full control of all the key parameters, in addition to a control network and high performing amplifier.

The toolkit allows designers to develop what are known as ‘applicators,’ which determine how RF energy is delivered into different applications. Understandably, a cooking application has a different way of getting energy into the cavity than a plasma lighting application. These applicators are easy to use and feature high-performance, offering designers a head start on the design-in process.

With this help to get them on their way, a designer can focus on their own application and dramatically cut their time to market. MACOM’s RF Energy Toolkit enables designers to create a more reliable end product, making available the resources to debug and see the advantages of the different electrical parameters and frequencies in their own application, without the need to invest in a big design team.

Looking Forward

MACOM is excited to realize the full potential of the RF Energy Toolkit and further enable designers to utilize solid-state RF energy in an easy, affordable and efficient way for their applications. Keep an eye out for the developing toolkit and more of its features – coming soon!

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Evolving Trends in Hi-Rel Components, From Aerospace and Defense to Commercial Spaceflight   Jun. 01, 2017

MiniSpaceHiRelnew.jpg (143175766)On the heels of another successful Space Parts Working Group (SPWG) event, where experts from the aerospace and defense (A&D) domain convene annually to compare notes on new developments in hi-rel components for space applications, we thought it an appropriate time to reflect on some of the trends that have affected this close-knit community through the years – a community that MACOM has been proud to partner with for over five decades.

Fifty years ago, the A&D domain pioneered many of the breakthrough technologies that we take for granted today in the commercial marketplace – radios, mobile phones, satellite communications, etc. Initially developed for military and space exploration applications, these technologies were made possible by new classes of hi-rel components that were scrutinized and standardized to ensure the highest possible levels of reliability and quality. Reducing risk of component failure was essential, as mission success hung in the balance.

But in time, these technologies were adapted for use by everyday consumers, lower cost solutions were needed, and many of the component suppliers that helped enable these advanced technologies turned their attention away from the A&D domain in favor of servicing the more lucrative mass market. This eventually led to a dearth of component suppliers with the interest and/or wherewithal to perform the resource-intensive process development, process control, screening and testing required for space hi-rel components, leaving A&D engineers with fewer and fewer options for sourcing these parts.


With the resurgence of commercial spaceflight and proliferation of small satellites (smallsats), commercial-grade products are being considered for many missions. However, components with process controls and screening will become increasingly attractive to the commercial satellite domain, and the volume of product needed will make discussions on tailored approaches attractive to both the component user and manufacturer.  To be sure, commercial-caliber components will continue to be used in smallsats targeted for short lifespan, low-risk deployments. And on the flipside, the design teams developing half billion dollar ‘big box’ satellites aren’t going to be using cell phone-grade, limited screening parts anytime soon. But as the A&D and commercial domains’ respective interests in hi-rel components begin to converge – we anticipate an exciting new phase in the long history of hi-rel components.

MACOM has been honored to contribute our technology and expertise to the A&D community through the years, and will proudly support any spaceflight endeavor – government or commercial – that expands our knowledge of the universe, and/or improves the quality and safety of life on earth. To this end, we remain steadfast in our commitment to providing hi-rel components that meet the highest standards of reliability and quality.

We invite you to learn more about MACOM’s portfolio of hi-rel, JAN-certified components, and our accreditation by the Department of Defense (DoD) as a Category 1A Trusted Foundry, conferred to microelectronics vendors exhibiting the highest levels of process integrity and protection.

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