In an age of virtual events and almost an entire day spent on a cellular telephone or an internet connection of some kind, an event such as the recent 2017 IMS in Hawaii has enormous value to the community that is the RF/microwave industry—and this is very much a community where everyone knows one another and little goes on in secret. An event like the 2017 IMS is nominally a technical conference and an exhibition, but it is much more than that. It is an opportunity to put the cell phone down for a bit, to get away from the computer screen and to interact with colleagues and competitors in real time. It is a chance to remember the human side of the RF/microwave industry and, for many, a chance to remember why they chose to be a part of the industry.
Each IMS provides the structure for smaller gatherings, in technical conferences, at workshops, at exhibition booths, even at company-sponsored MicroApps sessions. These latter sessions (held in an exhibition booth on the show floor) have gained in popularity as kind of casual, semi-technical sessions with practical application advice on particular products. Each IMS over the years has been unique and most visitors can recall something or someone from each of the shows they have attended. They may also remember where they were in their careers for each show, and how each show served as a kind of yardstick for measuring their personal growth. In fact, more than a few industry members are already looking forward to the 2018 IMS in Philadelphia.
It is the personal interactions, whether in technical sessions or on the show floor, that are so valuable at IMS. In many ways, the event serves as a reminder of the uniqueness of the RF/microwave portion of the electronics industry. It is a relatively small portion of the total electronics industry, long based on performing specialized design tasks related to military electronic systems. While defense-related requirements are still an important part of the industry, the increasing importance of wireless communications has changed the industry, made it more commercial, and made many of its members deal with what has been called the “commercialization” or “commoditization” of the industry.
Certainly, with its theme of riding the wave of the Fifth Generation (5G) of wireless technology, many of those personal interactions at the 2017 IMS will be about how to make something that was once one or two of a kind, such as millimeter-wave components, and make possibly tens and thousands of them for lower costs. With its dreamlike setting, the 2017 IMS marks a transition for this industry, towards potentially large-volume markets such as 5G and Internet of Things (IoT) that will require a rethinking of manufacturing and testing methods in order to remain competitive. 5G has taken the place of millimeter-wave technology as that next great thing that is “right around the corner.” Except now, millimeter-wave technology will be one of the enabling technologies for 5G.
The real-time, personal interactions at IMS are far more meaningful than quick texts and stacks of e-mails. This is especially true for an industry that is also facing a transition in terms of the increasing average age of its engineers. Personal interactions provide opportunities for younger engineers to learn about other companies and other technologies, and perhaps pave the way for their own futures even as they ensure the future of another company and of the industry.
The IMS may not always be in everyone’s most convenient location, but it is always a meaningful event and well worth the trip. It is a chance to learn, to remember, and to interact with fellow members of a unique industry for a few days without some of the electronic devices that, ironically, this industry has made possible.