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A glimpse of the future: Upcoming trends in RF & Microwave technologies

21/03/19 Ruksana Begum Consultant, R&D & Engineering

The trend is clear, technology innovation will increase at an even faster rate in the future. This has been particularly true in communications as RF technology becomes ubiquitous in daily life. Radio Frequency (RF) technology is critical to many aspects of modern electronics. This is because RF engineering is incorporated into almost everything that transmits or receives a radio wave across the whole of the RF spectrum (3 KHz to 300 GHz), including mobile phones, radios, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

With the Internet of Things (IoT) and even greater wireless connectivity, there will be increased demand for RF specialists and RF engineering jobs.

 

This specialised field typically falls into a couple of areas:

  • Providing or controlling coverage with antenna/transmission system.
  • Generating or receiving signals to or from that transmission system to other communications electronics or controls.
  • Verification and measurement of performance of radio frequency devices and systems.

RF designers and engineers work with devices such as phase and amplitude detectors, modulators, filters, switches, directional couplers, oscillators, amplifiers, attenuators and others.

Today, RF technology is used in many applications we use in our everyday lives, including access control systems, wireless home security systems, digital audio/video transmission, biological signal acquisition systems, wireless charging and much more.

Ruksana Begum, Redline’s R&D and Engineering consultant specialises in RF design and test roles. Ruksana looks at what the RF industry may look like a decade from now and the upcoming trends and future of RF technologies.  

“If you have been following developments in the field of radio frequency (rf), you will already know that the upcoming 5G revolution is one of the biggest changes on the horizon. By 2027, we can expect that the 5G network would have been up and running for some time, and consumer expectations for mobile speed and performance will be radically higher than today. With more people embracing smartphone technology globally, the demand for data will continue to rise, and legacy bandwidth ranges, which run below 6GHZ (gigahertz) will not be sufficient to meet this challenge. One of the first public tests of 5G yielded astonishing speeds of 10 gigabytes per second at up to 73GHz. There's no doubt that 5G will offer lightning-fast coverage at microwave frequencies which were previously used only for military and satellite applications.”

“The Internet of Things (IoT) poses endless possibilities for the world,” says Ruksana. “The Internet of Things, or IoT, refers to the billions of physical devices around the world that are now connected to the internet, collecting and sharing data. This adds a level of digital intelligence to devices that would be otherwise dumb, enabling them to communicate real-time data without a human being involved, effectively merging the digital and physical worlds.”

“We already live our lives through our smartphones and connected devices. We use them to organise our day, to stay in touch with family and friends, to update ourselves on current events and the list goes on. But what if we could use them to enhance the world around us? With the merging of IoT and smartphone functionality, our lives will become exponentially easier. For example, we already can see who is at our door through smart doorbells such Ring, which connects to your smartphone remotely.

It’s also clear that the future mobile network (i.e., 5G) will no longer be human-centric, it will be more machine-centric. According to Cisco, smart devices are those that have advanced computing and multimedia capabilities with a minimum of 3G network connectivity. Globally the growth of smart devices will reach 82% by 2021 and in some regions, it will reach 99% by 2021 (e.g., North America).

Advances in Electronic Warfare (EW) Technology

Electronic Welfare (EW) is the “use of electromagnetic” and directed energy to control the electromagnetic spectrum. Major defense contractors will incorporate more and more EW technology into their products in the decade to come. Lockheed-Martin, for example, features sophisticated EW abilities in their new F-35 fighter which allows it to jam enemy frequencies, suppress radar, and more.

Many of these new EW systems utilise gallium-nitride (GaN) devices to help meet their demanding power requirements, as well as low-noise amplifiers (LNA) and more. Additionally, the use of unmanned vehicles on land, in the air and the sea will also increase, along with a need for sophisticated RF solutions to communicate with and control these machines on secure networks.

In both the military and the commercial sector, the need for advanced RF and MF solutions for satellite communications (SATCOM) will also increase. One particularly ambitious project requiring advanced RF engineering is the global Wi-Fi project from SpaceX, which will require over 4000 satellites in orbit to beam wireless internet down to people all over the world, using frequencies of 10-30ghz, in the Ku and Ka-band range. 

The future is bright and the demand for radio frequency and microwave engineering knowledge is high. In the next ten years, we are expected to see exceptional growth and innovation in the industry.”

The Autonomous Car

Among the many technologies which make autonomous vehicles possible is a combination of sensors and actuators, sophisticated algorithms, and powerful processors to execute software. The sensors and actuators in an autonomous vehicle fall into three main categories; navigation and guidance, driving and safety and managing internal systems.

The primary subsystem used for navigation and guidance is based on a GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver, which computes present position based on complex analysis of rf signals received from at least four of the constellations of over 60 low-orbit satellites. A GPS system can provide location accuracy on the order of one meter.

The navigation and guidance subsystem must always be active and checking where the vehicle is located. For example, if the originally "optimum" route has any unexpected diversions, the path must be re-computed in real time to avoid going in the wrong direction.

The driverless car must be able to see and interpret what's in front when going forward and backward when reversing. It needs a 360-degree view and uses a “vision” called a LIDAR system (Light and Radar). For close-in control, such as when parking, lane-changing, or in bumper-to-bumper traffic, radars are built into the front and rear bumpers and sides of the vehicle. Operating frequency for this radar is usually 77GHz, which has good RF propagation characteristics, and provides enough resolution.

Several RF and Microwave technologies will drive the industry forward in 2019

The RF and Microwave industry will continue to move towards technologies that have higher levels of integration and flexibility to enable multiple use sub-systems. Re-usability will drive down cost but more importantly, accelerates time to market. Manufacturers’ re-use of the same hardware and software, as well as accumulated engineering knowledge across all platforms, mitigate risks and allows for rapid reconfiguration.

Research and development will be ‘top priority’ with 5G on the horizon

As 5G continues to grow in relevance, everyone from component manufacturers to service providers will be increasingly forced to manage their costs and respective business models. 5G promises orders of magnitude improvement in data capacity, however, it comes at the expense of added equipment complexity and higher costs.

Reinvention of RF and antennas

Technology companies that design and manufacturer RF components or antennas will play a critical part in adopting the new 5G standards and ensuring these devices fit in with new networks. New 5G modelling software will allow companies to test designs and simulations to reduce costs further.

Our RF and Microwave design engineering jobs are handled by experts with a knowledge-led approach to electronic engineering recruitment. Redline recruit’s RF & Microwave circuit and system design engineers, low power wireless and RFIC design jobs.

Looking for your next RF or Microwave design job in a high-tech company? Contact Ruksana Begum on 01582 878864 or email RBegum@RedlineGroup.com