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What’s Trending for the RF Semiconductor Industry in 2018?   Jan. 03, 2018

2018 rf small.jpg (848609812)2017 brought many exciting disruptions and advancements for the RF semiconductor industry, including but not limited to continued consolidation in the MMIC marketplace, GaN driving new basestation architecture and RF energy applications, and some initial, truly innovative progress toward making 5G deployment a reality. Progress on these will continue throughout 2018, this time accompanied by some new trends. 2018 will bring to maturity trends like digitization, the increasing demand for multi-mission capabilities, and the industry’s continued dependence upon diodes.

Trend to Digitization

One of the most profound things affecting the RF and Microwave industry today is the unrelenting march of digital technology increasingly closer to the antenna, consuming more and more of what was historically RF functionality. The RF companies who adapt to the trend of digitization and learn how to interface with the digital domain will be the key players in 2018.

Across multiple market segments, the implementation of higher level digital solutions is becoming more prevalent as digitization becomes more cost effective and less power hungry, and at a higher sampling rate. Historically digitization was confined to very high end systems due to the cost and power requirements. With the advance of silicon technology, digital solutions are becoming more ubiquitous. This trend shifts system complexity from the RF domain to systems which rely increasingly on software, data and data distribution. These systems drive the need for high frequency/high bandwidth optical links to accommodate the generated data.

Throughout the year, one can expect to see this trend toward digitization implemented universally in many communications systems. RF content will be focused on power, noise and switch applications, integrated with power control and monitoring to enable highly digital front end solutions.

Demand for Multi-Mission Capability

In 2018, we will continue to see the demand for defense systems increase. New systems will demand progressively higher performance levels with more RF front end content, however, global budget constraints will also demand this superior performance at a lower cost.

To address this challenge, vendors are already trying to align and adapt to commercial manufacturing practices to leverage the broader manufacturing infrastructure available in the commercial marketplace. The key hurdle for vendors to overcome is maintaining state-of-the-art performance while exploiting commercial technologies and manufacturing approaches. Performance is key—many future systems will be multi-mission capable. A single system will support communications, sensing, command and control, and other capabilities.

This mission definition drives significant RF challenges. For example, to enable a combination of radar, electronic warfare, and communications simultaneously from the same system requires it to support extremely broad instantaneous frequency ability, spanning at times from 1 GHz to say, 20 GHz—a great challenge for the RF domain. In the civil domain, we will also see multi-mission requirements evolving, in which capabilities such as air traffic control, unmanned vehicle tracking, and weather monitoring need to happen at once—but affordably.

MACOM has been focused on exploiting commercial manufacturing technologies for complex system requirements for many years. Through the heterogeneous integration of multiple RF technologies to enable system performance, coupled with the manufacturing approaches to drive cost, we believe MACOM is positioned to support this trend across both defense and civil markets.

The Essential Building Blocks: Diodes

Another key trend for 2018 will be the continued dependence upon diodes. For decades, the industry has predicted the demise of diodes to be right around the corner—yet today, diodes are still essential building blocks used throughout the RF semiconductor industry. The reality is, the diode structures continue to provide the highest performance capability for certain key and crucial RF functions. The unique combination of insertion loss and breakdown capability results in unique product performance, including highest power handling at the lowest insertion loss, the ability to span octaves of bandwidth with outstanding performance, the ability to operate at high frequency and more. We expect that 2018 will be no different. Diodes will continue to be a core element, accomplishing things people simply cannot do any other way.

As 5G emerges as a market force, diode technologies will shine yet again. At lower frequency, highly integrated diode T/R switches will provide superior power handling, often with receive chain protection and loss characteristics which enable low system noise figure. As millimeterwave systems begin to proliferate, diodes and integrated diode products will be key in enabling system performance. Diodes are far from dead—in the coming year, they will dominate key functions due to their clear technical superiority.

Looking Forward

2018 looks to be an exciting year for the RF semiconductor industry, promising many new developments, likely a few twists and turns, and overall, a great deal of cutting-edge innovation. At MACOM, we look forward to another year of expanding our footprint to develop exceptional, leading-edge technology and solutions for our customers. 


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Test & Measurement Systems for 5G Wireless: Reducing Costs and Complexity with MMICs   Dec. 12, 2017

test measure blog.jpg (Digital measurements devices)Consumers and technology vendors alike are understandably excited about the impending global roll-out of 5G wireless infrastructure. We’re collectively looking forward to 10X faster data rates, with a roadmap to 100X faster speeds and beyond, and network capacity that eclipses today’s connectivity by an untold margin. And while we have some idea of how faster, broader wireless coverage will affect our daily lives, the wide-ranging societal and economic impacts of 5G may be incalculable – albeit not for lack of expert predictions.

Juniper Research forecasts that 5G service revenues will exceed $65 billion globally by 2025. Analyst firm IHS Markit is predicting that 5G will enable up to $12.3 trillion of global economic output by 2035. These are attention-grabbing numbers for sure, and yet they’re arguably less consequential than, for example, the thousands of traffic accidents that may be prevented each year when safety-optimized, 5G-interconnected autonomous vehicles take to the streets.

Irrespective of the measurement methods we employ, the value of 5G will be staggering.

In the meantime, measurement methods are very much top of mind with test and measurement (T&M) vendors tasked with developing next-generation testing equipment tailored for 5G wireless systems. Compared to earlier 3G and 4G LTE deployments, 5G introduces numerous architectural complexities owing primarily to the massive multiple input, multiple output “MIMO” antennae configurations that characterize the sub-6 GHz basestations targeted for 5G mobile wireless deployments.

Where previously a basestation might host between four to eight antennas, a 5G basestation could host hundreds of independent transmit and receive antennas all operating simultaneously – meaning that there’s now hundreds of radio channels to scan and process in parallel, all operating at higher frequencies. Complicating matters, the sheer density and complexity of the antennae configuration can make it impractical to connect the requisite number of cables to emulate and test each channel. Over-the-air (OTA) antenna testing methodologies therefore become increasingly important when testing basestation beamforming capabilities.

The higher data throughputs inherent to 5G are enabled in part via wider bandwidth signals, so 5G testing also requires extreme wideband instrumentation capable of generating and analyzing new 5G waveforms. Test equipment customers typically pay thousands of dollars per MHz of signal generation and analysis capability. As such, T&M vendors are challenged to support wider bandwidths at competitive price points that customers will find palatable.  

MMICS VS DISCRETE COMPONENTS

To meet these challenges, designers of 5G testing systems need RF components that can accommodate extreme multi-channel testing scenarios at broad bandwidths, without adding significant size, weight – and most importantly, cost – to the devices. This requires higher levels of integration, and a new approach to system design that eschews discrete RF components in favor of advanced Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuits (MMICs) that combine multiple functions within a single package.

MMICs by their very nature take a lot of the speculation and complexity out of the design cycle compared to systems built primarily with discrete RF devices, and can therefore enable 5G tester designers to accelerate their time to market and lower their development costs. Providing significant size, weight and performance advantages compared to conventional discrete devices, MMICs optimized for wide bandwidth support enable system designers to squeeze more channels into compact system form factors, allowing for robust 5G testing capabilities whether on the bench or mobile in the field. The design and manufacturing efficiencies achieved with MMICs can translate into lower production costs, yielding cost-competitive, highly integrated 5G testing equipment primed for widespread adoption in the booming 5G wireless infrastructure marketplace.

MACOM’s industry leadership in MMICs and 5G technologies gives us unique perspective on the challenges that T&M vendors are grappling with when it comes to 5G testing systems. For additional information about MACOM’s innovation in MMIC technology for 5G and other applications, click here to read more. 


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Advancing 5G: The Challenges of Deployment and Capacity Optimization   Nov. 29, 2017

MIMO Signal Small.jpg (537459762)5G promises to deliver dramatic improvements in spectral efficiency, effectively maximizing the ability of operators to deliver the required capacity over scarce spectrum resources. These improvements will be achieved by spatial multiplexing in one form or another. For millimeterwave deployments, this will rely on beamforming, where the signal is coherently beamed from the basestation to the user equipment, while for sub-6GHz deployments, multiple input multiple output “MIMO” technology is expected to prevail.

Massive MIMO

MIMO, and particularly Massive MIMO (“M-MIMO”), takes advantage of the combination of communications channels in rich scattering environments, such as an urban environment, and an increased number of antenna elements (typically 64 or greater). The increased number of antennae allows the basestation to turn the challenge of urban channel environment into an asset, essentially using the fading characteristics to de-correlate end users.  

Theoretically M-MIMO can then deliver the full channel capacity to multiple users simultaneously, reusing the same frequency and time resources. This theory has been extended to successful lab technology demonstrations, with universities such as Bristol and Lund recently demonstrating a capacity of 2.9Gbps over a 20MHz channel, equivalent to 145bps/Hz, an extraordinary improvement compared to 1-2bps/Hz in commercially deployed LTE networks today.

The Challenge of 5G

The challenge today lies within converting the theory and demonstrations to tangible deployment scenarios. To date, several operators have announced results of early trials showing performance of 300-700Mbps over the same channel bandwidths. Although this is impressive compared to the 1bps benchmark, a challenge remains, since in demonstrations the user terminals are optimally placed to maximize the headline figures. The practical use case gains are much more modest, perhaps achieving 2-4bps/Hz. Some of the considerations limiting achieved performance are inter-cell interference at the cell edge, pilot tone contamination, and sub-optimal channels. It remains to be seen whether enhancements to signal processing, cell planning and resource scheduling will help M-MIMO to reach its potential, or whether beamforming solutions will play a role in complementing where channel conditions are favorable.

Aside from achieving the technology’s potential, there are challenges in the path of 5G deployment into mature markets. In many markets, operators are operationally limited in their ability to deploy new antennas by leasing agreements with site landlords, which can limit the number, size and weight of antennas on a mast. It is common for an operator to have an allocation of two antennas per sector, tracing back well over 20 years to when a second antenna was used to support GSM uplink diversity to address the challenges of fading within the channel. Today, these two antennas cover a multitude of bands from 700MHz to 2.6GHz, with multiple columns of antenna elements per band to deliver diversity and up to 4T4R MIMO, while also featuring up to 12 or 14 RF ports. Adding an active antenna to deliver 5G over 3.5GHz will complicate the situation even further, either requiring all bands to be integrated into a single antenna, or combining the 3.5GHz Active Array with passive antennas in a single radome.

Achieving the Promise of 5G

Despite the many challenges facing the mainstream deployment of 5G, the promised benefits continue to excite and bring together an industry dedicated to achieving its execution. Recently at the IWPC workshop, multiple operators, OEMs and technology vendors gathered to debate antenna innovation and evolution, where the challenges and progress toward commercially viable 5G employments were candidly addressed, and potential solutions debated. This continued dedication to innovation will make strides toward fulfilling the full potential of 5G, and meriting the benefits of this technology.

As the path to 5G deployment continues, MACOM is bringing to bear our full portfolio of RF to Light technologies to address the challenges of 5G with cost effective, compact, highly efficient and integrated front-end solutions. These solutions leverage MACOM’s GaN-on-Silicon power amplifiers and proprietary switch technologies, combined with our high speed optical interconnects to facilitate the dataflow within the radio head required for M-MIMO signal processing. MACOM is committed to enabling 5G by providing the high-performance product solutions required to better enable the necessary wireless infrastructure. 


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Cloud Data Center Evolution - From 0 to 400G   Nov. 07, 2017

Data Center Evolution.jpg (583997004)Cloud services and consumer products that rely on Cloud Data Centers have created a rapid evolution in Data Center capabilities. As services like the Internet of Things (IoT), audio/video content delivery, big data processing and social media continue to demand greater speeds, the Cloud Data Center industry is making strides to create solutions that are energy efficient and easily expandable. As a result, the need for low cost 100G is creating a shift in how the industry approaches the backbone hardware that enables Cloud Data Centers to respond and expand for both commercial and consumer needs. As Cloud Data Center providers work to find energy efficient low-cost solutions, the industry is looking toward future requirements that meet these needs as well. The evolution from 0 to 100G is just the beginning.

The Need for Low Cost 100G

The above stated increased traffic within and between Cloud Data Centers is driving the need for low cost 100G, moving to high-speed and low power 200G and 400G interconnects. Starting in 2018, Cloud Data Center OEMs will adopt new technology, allowing them to increase bandwidth density per port. Smaller QSFP, QSFP-DD and OSFP form factor modules will support these interconnects. The shift requires suppliers to deliver lower power electronic components that are reliable over time. One solution is to drive chipset innovations that address the power and bandwidth density needs by supporting single wavelength interconnects. When combined with silicon photonics, this approach fulfills the power envelope requirements of these smaller form factor modules.

New Capacity Requirements

Looking back, transceiver technology was expensive and power hungry. Silicon technology advances over time allowed for more affordable hardware and energy-efficient operations. But the limits to the capabilities of the current transceiver architecture are already here and today's Cloud Data Centers are at maximum capacity.

On average, large scale Cloud Data Centers need to upgrade networking hardware every two years. With the switches that are currently in use, the cost of the optical transceivers is a major contributor to the upgrade cost. Next generation 100G solutions using PAM-4 technology can help address these issues and lower the cost per bit in the future.

This new approach to 100G has benefits in the near and long-term. It increases density, lowers power and lowers cost per transmitted bit, thereby significantly improving overall efficiency. As companies continue to grow in scale and their data needs become more complex, 100G per lambda will be a building block to next generation 400G, which offers the bandwidth and efficiency they desperately need.

100G PAM-4: The best solution for 100G

Understanding the current market challenges and the growing need for speed shows that PAM-4 is the best approach for a scalable solution. 53Gbaud PAM-4 modulation using mixed signal PHYs can address the challenge from the industry and provide lower cost hardware and more energy efficient solutions over time. For 100G transceivers, single-wavelength PAM-4 technology reduces the number of lasers to one and eliminates the need for optical multiplexing. The 2 bits / symbol approach of PAM-4 reduces the bandwidth requirements, while improving cost and power per bit. Digital Signal Processing (DSP) provides flexible and adaptable equalization, allowing 100G transmission over single mode fiber up to the distance of 2 Km.

PAM-4 proves to be the most cost-effective, efficient enabler of 100G and 400G in the Cloud Data Center to date. For 400G implementations, only four optical assemblies are needed, representing a major opportunity for Cloud Data Center operators to reduce their CAPEX and OPEX with an extremely compact and energy efficient module.

The Best Solution

Research and testing shows that single lambda PAM-4 supports the increased speed requirements of Cloud Data Centers and is achievable with technology that exists today. PAM-4 and the shift in approach to 100G provides a 60% reduction in component count along with a 33% reduction in power requirements. The significant reduction in assembly costs and higher reliability deliver initial and long-term value and provide the infrastructure required to reach 400G as well. At 400G, this technology is adaptable and can enable QSFP-DD or OSFP form factor transceivers. The PAM-4 approach delivers the best overall solution for speed and affordability in Cloud Data Centers.

Optical and Electrical Results

With its streamlined architecture, lower cost and higher reliability, single lambda 100GE PAM-4 or 100G Serial, can be seen as the equivalent of SFI at 10GE. SFI and SFP+ enable the cost reduction and high density required to drive the growth of 10GE.

The single lambda 100G solution offers the optimal component count with the simplest architecture. This brings the potential to achieve the lowest cost as a result. In addition, reducing the optical components to the minimum required set enhances module reliability, manufacturing yields and reduces the chance of optical component failure. 100G per lambda is poised to create the next wave of explosive growth in mega Cloud Data Centers. 


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