In My Opinion: Greater Challenges and Opportunities Will Drive Our Industry in 2023

By Dave Slack, Director of Engineering

Originally Published in Microwave Product Digest

2022 was a year of significant challenges and innovation for the microwaves and RF industry. Notably, the trend towards smaller products and higher density form factor solutions, necessary to meet growing high-frequency product development needs, pushed the limits of previous wireless technology generations through the roof.

This presented significant challenges for many RF companies, forcing a reevaluation of manufacturing techniques from top to bottom. For us at Times Microwave Systems®, it provided the opportunity to invest in new equipment, and focus on supplier development to meet the scale and size requirements of these new products.

We partner with system integrators, OEMs, design engineers, and other companies—anyone working on the cusp of new wireless technology development and needs high-performance RF interconnects. Our ability to innovate and respond quickly to the voice of the customer enabled us to overcome new challenges and turn product development modifications around in weeks instead of the months or years it may take a other manufacturers It’s been an exciting transition as our ability to be nimble, agile, and reactive is something we take seriously. We’re proud to offer new in-demand capabilities to our customers.

At Times Microwave Systems we also grown vertically as we’ve intentionally created a constellation of manufacturing sites and operations that are close to customers within the US and abroad. This geographic expansion allows each unit to react, develop new opportunities, and maintain the nimbleness of a agile company’s innovative, creative, and collaborative entrepreneurial spirit, equipped with the resources of a large enterprise.

Beyond our agility in responding to growing higher-frequency requirements, we also successfully addressed changing needs for the extreme environments many of our customers’ products operate in. For example, in 2022, we extended our high-temperature solutions from a typical 200°C product and now offer 300°C and even 400°C options, using the same philosophies of responsiveness and nimbleness to meet growing market demands.

What’s Next?

Throughout the first half of 2023, the trend towards high-density, smaller parts for a growing range of higher frequency needs continued to advance. In fact, parts are now becoming so small that they are being integrated into hybrid architectures. These hybrid technologies combine multiple components that were previously discrete and connect them via interconnects into one device.

In some cases, this is changing the interconnect landscape as we know it and opening the door to new integrated solutions. For example, bundled cables, multi-port connectors, and integrated sensors and connectors are becoming more prevalent.

5G is Driving Further Growth

An overarching factor underlying many of these advances is that 5G technology is now leading the way in communications product development. The technology has advanced to the point where millimeter wave deployment on a wide scale is possible, bringing with it the shorter wavelengths that equate to smaller components, tighter tolerances, and greater attention to detail.

5G provides massive increases in available bandwidth. For example, think of 1% bandwidth at 40 gigahertz versus 1% bandwidth at four gigahertz—a factor of 10 wider. 5G also has tremendous spectrum resource advantages. Currently, the available spectrum allocated by the FCC is tightly packed. On the other hand, a lot of spectrum bandwidth is available in the millimeter wave frequencies where 5G operates.

It’s also a climate where commercial off-the-shelf 5G components and technologies are beginning to drive military developments. The military is increasingly adopting an open architecture, very configurable solution philosophy with new system designs that take advantage of commercial 5G developments. It is particularly interesting because historically, the research and development dollars have been on the military side, with commercial markets benefiting instead of vice versa.

5G technology further provides higher accuracy and precision targeting for sensors—such as radars with much better target resolution and definition—as well as phased array antennas in commercial applications.

For example, active electronically steered antenna arrays (AESAs) have become a valuable part of the 5G hardware toolbox. These devices allow for virtually instantaneous adjustments to the direction and gain characteristics of an antenna. This allows for smaller antennas as well as increases in signal efficiency.

AESAs rely on accurately controlling phase relationships between elements of the antenna arrays. Using high-quality components that are entirely phase stable is important for AESAs or any other phase sensitive hardware. This is especially true for interconnecting hardware.

Finally, with the growth in millimeter wave products and components and new hybrid architectures, test and measurement hardware is more critical than ever. It needs to keep pace with the hardware it is meant to evaluate and must work at higher frequencies and become increasingly smaller. Test and measurement equipment should also be able to maintain metrology-grade performance after hundreds of mating cycles and thousands of flex and temperature cycles.

However, test and measurement hardware is often an afterthought. The cost of poorly performing test hardware is often not the replacement cost—it is the cost of false failures. This has ushered in the development of new test product lines in the 70-110 GHz ranges to support changing qualification requirements.

Parting Words

In summary, 2022 was a year of challenges and innovation, with smaller products and higher-density form factors driving the need for more innovative RF interconnect solutions. Looking ahead to the remainder of 2023 and beyond, we expect continued expansion of 5G millimeter wave technology, driving growth in high-density integrated components.