What will 2021 hold for the microwave design community?

There is no doubt that 2020 has been a year of surprises. As a design house, a lot of the work we do can be carried out very effectively working remotely, so we are fortunate to have been able to operate as normal during the pandemic. Of course, not all of our work can be done remotely; we are often involved in the evaluation of the MMICs and subsystems that we have developed for our clients. This requires access to our test lab, so we have put a system in place to rotate staff and reduce occupancy, allowing us to continue providing RFOW and module test and evaluation services.

So what is likely to happen during 2021? One thing we expect is that GaAs and GaN Power Amplifier (PA) ICs will see increased adoption in mmWave 5G base stations. The cell sizes in urban mmWave 5G will be small – this is in part due to the need to provide very high data rate services to multiple users in a dense environment, but is also a feature of the limited non-line-of-sight propagation capabilities of mmWave signals. Si technology can provide lower cost components and is better suited to higher levels of integration, but cannot reach the RF power levels that GaAs and GaN technologies can offer. While many base station developers would like to use Si technology throughout, the higher RF power levels offered by GaAs and GaN are likely to be necessary to offer a robust system. With the increased density of mmWave cells, reducing power consumption will be a major consideration, and design approaches that can offer increased efficiency at back-off, such as Doherty, will increasingly be favoured to improve PA efficiency.

There will also be significant growth in the use of Ku- and Ka-band satcomms for global broadband access. There are a number of broadband satcomms systems in these bands that are either in operation or under development. In addition to Space X’s much-publicized Starlink system, Inmarsat’s Global Xpress system is already operational and the recent bail-out of OneWeb by the UK government and Bharti Global means they can complete their planned global broadband satellite internet service. Other companies offering broadband access via satellite include Viasat in the US and Eutelsat in Europe. The links from these broadband satellites back to the ground stations—and also between satellites–also use mmWave links. Emerging High-Altitude Platform Systems (HAPS) utilise mmWave links as well, and we expect all of these applications to accelerate the demand for MMICs at higher frequencies.

Based on an article originally published in EDACafe