What I Saw at the International Microwave Symposium

The International Microwave Symposium (IMS) was held in Seattle this year from June 2 to 7.  IMS is also known as the IEEE’s Microwave Theory and Techniques Society (MTT-S).  This event has been held regularly since 1952.  It is “the” microwave show for those working in this field.  While the focus over the years has primarily been military radar and communications systems including satellites, today it is broader because most new wireless and cellular technology works in the microwave bands above 1 GHz.  It is a big generic show with something for everyone working with microwave wireless.

IMS is a mix of presentations, workshops, panels, tutorials and exhibits. It is also made up of several shows-within-a-show.  The two big ones are the Radio Frequency Integrated Circuit (RFIC) group and Automatic RF Techniques Group (ARFTG).  The RFIC group offers up multiple talks and sessions related to the latest in ICs for microwave radios.  RFICs are a special category of semiconductor technology as many of them are made with materials other than silicon such as GaAs, SiGe, InP, and GaN. 

This is a pretty big conference with attendance in the 8000 to 10000 range each year.  My guess is that there were about 9000 this year.  There were also about 580 exhibitors showing components, ICs, circuits, and equipment.  I am always amazed at the amount of connectors, cable, waveguide, cavities, and other hardware assemblies associated with microwave.

My focus this year was to get an update on two major sectors of the industry, test and measurement and design software.  In the T&M space, I visited Aeroflex, Agilent, Anritsu, National Instruments, Rohde and Schwarz, and Tektronix.  Lots of updated models with extended frequency ranges and plenty of new VNA and VSG related products.

In the software space I visited Agilent, ANSYS, AWR, Cadence, CST, Mesuro and Remcom.  Today there is an amazing amount of great software to speed up and simplify microwave design at the chip, board and box level. 

You can see both the T&M and software round up videos on Engineering TV after next week. Take a look.

A clear focus at this show was power amplifiers.  Many companies were showing the latest power amp chips, transistors, and finished products.  The highlights were GaN transistors and circuits.  There were numerous displays and demos of Doherty amplifiers and those using digital pre-distortion (DPD) for linearization and envelope modulation for improved efficiency.  All with frequency ranges to 20 GHz. 

One topic I heard several times was the “death of GaAs”.  Many believe that GaN and SiGe and even silicon will eventually replace GaAs.  I am not sure of that as GaAs is well entrenched today and has a wide following.  It has its niche.  Maybe it will eventually decline, but doesn’t everything at some point.  Decline will take time.  In the mean time, it is still safe to design it in but just be aware of the coming replacements.

In the semiconductor space I did get around to visiting Analog devices, Avago, Freescale, MACOM, Peregrine,  RFMD, SkyWorks, and Texas Instruments.  One interesting standout was Cavendish Kinetics.  They are offering a new MEMS digitally variable capacitor.  With nearly 700 tiny MEMS capacitors on the chip, they can vary the total capacitance over a wide range.  The targeted market is LTE phones for antenna tuning and reducing the number and size of antennas.

Another interesting product was EasternOptX’s radar target simulator.  They use fiber optic cables and switching to simulate variable range radar targets for testing Doppler radars.  Very unique.

Finally, one great event was the Penton Awards Ceremony.  Microwave  & RF magazine, another Penton publication, awarded eight “Best of” awards to 16 companies.  See the details on the MWRF website.

IMS is in Tampa next year.  If you are in the wireless field, this conference is definitely for you.  After all, most wireless today is microwave (> 1 GHz).  The IEEE does a good job of making it a great educational experience.  Check it out.

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