IMS 2012, Day 2: Closing the Microwave Gap

June 20, 2012
Day two of the IMS conference in Montreal started off well with a great briefing with Ke Wu, the General Chairman of the conference. He is the guy that led his crew of 65+ individuals and IEEE support staff to put together this massive show. An ...
Day two of the IMS conference in Montreal started off well with a great briefing with Ke Wu, the General Chairman of the conference. He is the guy that led his crew of 65+ individuals and IEEE support staff to put together this massive show. An impressive piece of work. He said he was lucky not to have to do it again next year. Our thanks and congratulations go out to him for a terrific job.

Dr. Wu is a professor at Ecole Polytechique Montreal. I asked him to tell me the trends he sees in microwave today that are reflected in the papers and sessions. He said that there is a deliberate movement to close the gap between the microwave and optical parts of the spectrum. This is the region above 300 GHz and below the far infrared (IR) bands. It the so-called Terahertz region that is a large but unused part of the spectrum. Work in being done to close that gap with work going on at both the millimeter wave end and the IR ends. The IEEE's relatively new publication Transactions on Terahertz Science and Technology addresses this challenge. The first issue came out last year and the second volume was available here at the show. A seriously interesting but unfamiliar region of the spectrum.

Another trend suggested by Dr. Wu is the development of more multifunction, multi-standard, smart, configurable and frequency agile microwave systems on a chip. One more key trend is advancements in microwave power devices with the growing number of GaAs and GaN power amplifiers and transistors. These continue to replace older devices with ever higher power levels and improved efficiency.

Dr. Wu also indicated a movement to resume development in microwave power transmission. It is not going to be the massive wireless power distribution envisioned by Nikola Tesla in the early 20th century but it will be effective simply because today we have already developed very low power consumption chips and energy harvesting methods. Look for some future developments in this space.

I asked Dr Wu what the show attendance was and he indicated a figure of about 8500 as of today with the expectation of 10K by Thursday. That is just about on par with last year in Baltimore.

Test and Measurement Challenges

Measuring microwaves precisely is difficult. Yet many companies have invested in the wireless testing space and most claim that wireless and specifically microwave have become the bigger part of their business. The T&M business was well represented at this conference. It is tough to cover them all in this short daily log but here is a brief summary of some of the new products I saw.

Aeroflex showed off their entire line of test gear for microwaves. Aeroflex probably has more LTE test equipment than most. Their S-Series of stackable RF generators and analyzers was on display showing the new 802.11ac test capability.

Agilent introduced their new MGX/EXG X-series signals generators. These cover up to 6 GHz and are available in analog or vector generator formats. These are flexible generators that can address radar, receiver testing and consumer devices. The key specifications are a phase noise of -146 dBc/Hz at 1 GHz with a 20 kHz offset, low EVM, APCR of -73 dBc and an output power to 27 dBm. The demo showed simulation of GPS and GLONASS satellite constellations for testing GNSS receivers.

One other notable introduction was a new version of the EXA signal analyzers for millimeter waves. This one covers up to 44 GHz but with external mixers the range extends to 325 GHz. The sensitivity with mixers is -140 dBm/Hz and a phase noise of -106 dBm/Hz with a 10 kHz offset.

Anritsu demonstrated their high end VectorStar Broadband Vector Network Analyzer. The ME7838A has a frequency range of 70 kHz to 110 GHz. It also has four port measurement capability and can be used to develop, characterize and test differential millimeter wave devices. They also announced an extender option for this unit that works up to an amazing 750 GHz.

National Instruments demoed their test solution for 802.11ac. It can perform full receive and transmit testing with configurations with bandwidths up to 160 MHz, modulation to 256QAM and MIMO up to 4x4.

NI also showed off their integration and connectivity between NI's popular LabVIEW system design software and the AWR Visual System Simulator (VSS) software for RF and microwave system design. This is the first major joint development between NI and AWR following NI's recent acquisition of AWR. The new connectivity helps engineers to better use measurements in the design flow by executing LabVIEW code directly from the AWR design environment.

An interesting development was the mention of NI's forthcoming announcement of some new revolutionary RF and wireless design test and measurement system. They plan to show this for the first time at their annual NI Week conference in Austin, TX in August. Should be interesting.

Rohde & Schwarz had a full range of their RF test equipment on display. They introduced a wide range of new products including the FSW-K6 pulse measurement option for the FSW series of signal and spectrum analyzers. The K6 option speeds up pulse radar measurements. The new K17 option for the FSW analyzers measures group delay. Another new option is the option for 802.11ac testing and measuring.

The new ZNB-K4 software option for the ZNB vector network analyzers is designed to speed and simplify measurements on frequency converters and frequency multipliers. The ZNB-B2 option helps speed and simplify intermodulation measurements.

That's it for today. Look for some component coverage tomorrow.

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