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.
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.