Opportunities And Rough Times Lie Ahead

Holidays are a perfect time to wind down and enjoy the small things that make life meaningful. Hopefully, most of us can take this time to enjoy the company of friends and family and be grateful for life's blessings. In that vein, the editors of Microwaves & RF traditionally use the December issue to look back at the achievements of the past year with our list of "Top Products". With the New Year approaching, it also is a good time to look forward to the future.

Many exciting market opportunities await the microwave industry with medical electronics representing possibly the area of greatest potential. Body-area networking, for example, is expected to surge. By implanting RF transceiver chips that connect with monitoring equipment, physicians can take advantage of in-body medical communications. Even the digestive and excretory systems can be accurately monitored. For example, Olympus developed a wireless capsule endoscope that could survey the small intestine. Extremely low-power wireless body sensors also are being used to monitor health signs like heart rate and body temperature.

In addition, the military and homeland-security areas continue to drive microwave-product development. Consider, for instance, the success and proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and their need for secure, broadband communications links. Many consumer products also leverage microwave technologies. The telecommunications market has remained strong for the last couple of years, thanks to the popularity of devices like the iPhone. Now, however, even this market is starting to feel the effects of the weak economy. Such a slowdown will affect both the infrastructure and handset makeras well as partners in the supply chain.

Microwave companies, which are generally more stable than their digital or lower-frequency analog counterparts, are beginning to feel the brunt of these financial problems. As this piece is being written, news of layoffs in at least one RF company has emerged. Hopefully, more companies will not follow suit. RF and microwave engineers are not plentiful. And at times, they can be quite hard to come by.

In tough economies like the present one, a handful of companies will choose to increase their research and development (R&D) so that they are offering the right solutions once the economy improves. Even before the economy truly recovers, however, microwave companies have near-term opportunities in which they can flourish. The medical and defense arenas are just two examples. The industrial, automotive, and broadcast sectors also offer potential. To take advantage of these emerging opportunities, however, companies need to hold onto or hire experienced and knowledgeable microwave engineers. At the end of the year, companies of every kind tend to judge their success according to their financial performance. Yet the measure of current and especially future success is often the caliber of the people working for a company.

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