Looking Beyond These 50 Years

Some members of this industry are visionaries. They catch a brief glimpse of what might befor their company, their technology, or even how the world could be improvedand they let it guide them. They cannot see the future, but their actions can help shape it. They believe in their vision and hope that others will join them to make it tangible through honesty and hard work.

I would not fool anyone in this industry by claiming to be a visionary, especially after 30 years of reporting on its people, companies, and technologies. Getting facts straight and specifications correct are challenges enough without trying to see what lies beyond present-day technology. It has been my good fortune, however, to have known many in this industry who appeared to be guided by something that no one else could see: Aksel Kiiss in starting MITEQ; Harvey Kaylie in creating Mini-Circuits; Chuck Abronson and Bill Childs in founding EEsof; and even those with dreams of smaller magnitudes, such as Siegfried Knorr of Colby Instruments. Those who worked for folks like this often talk about getting "swept up" in the enthusiasm or sharing in the energy and, in doing so, contributing to making the original vision a reality.

In working with "hands-on" engineering designers such as Morris Engelson, Tektronix's "Father of the Spectrum Analyzer," or Wiltron/Anritsu's mechanical mastermind, Bill Oldfield, it is clear when someone has a gift for a particular science or technology: even their explaining it to you seems simple and effortless. Certainly, neither engineer could look beyond the present, but their commands of their respective technologies gave them the insight to see in which direction a technology was heading.

After 30 years of watching and learning from some of the best, the vision of the future isn't any clearer, but some of those lessons from the past might have finally left a mark. Following the commercialization of GaAs technology in cellular communications handsets and base stations (from a DARPA funding intended to support military applications), it is clear that if a technology can be made practical, it will also be made useful across a number of different markets. And this is likely to be the case for millimeter-wave devices and circuits in the years to come.

Millimeter-wave frequencies have long been viewed as an "exotic" branch of the RF/microwave industry, used in such nontraditional applications as radio astronomy; missile guidance; short-haul, high-data-rate communications; and even in advanced munitions systems. Note that many of these applications fall under the category of military systems. But it doesn't take a visionary to see the trends related to this technology, with even silicon CMOS devices now reaching into millimeter-wave bandwidths. Nor does it require extraordinary prescience to forsee the need for available bandwidth, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has responded by having earmarked many of the millimeter-wave bands for commercial communications. Military applications tend to give RF/microwave engineers a chance to see if a technology is feasible. Commercial applications also provide the opportunity to see if the technology can be applied affordably.

Beyond millimeter-wave products, the need to conserve energy should also provide growth for this industry in the areas of energy harvesting as well as microwave power transmission (MPT), since harvested energy will also have to be moved from one place to another. MPT technology has long been a fascination of the military, of NASA, of the US Department of Energy (DOE), and certain large companies, such as Raytheon Co. Although it has been technically feasible, this has literally been a "pie in the sky" technology that skeptics thought would never see the light of day. But 20 years from now, who knows? Twenty years ago, how many readers would have imagined their current dependence on their computers or "smartphones?"

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