Difficult times notwithstanding, 2003 marked the arrival of many innovative products in hardware, software, and test equipment. Selected by the editors of Microwaves & RF for their technical innovation and practical benefits to designers (see table), the Top Products of 2003 represent the many efforts of gifted design engineers, test engineers, technicians, and manufacturing professionals during a year when few companies took a single product sale for granted. As a sign of the industry's health and positive long-term prospects, however, the list also shows a diversity of companies, from repeating "regular" contributors to the list to several first-time award winners.

Companies that each year continue to develop cost-effective products with high performance levels and useful features include several repeat names from previous years' Top Products lists, such as Agilent Technologies (Santa Rosa, CA), Mini-Circuits (Brooklyn, NY), RF Micro Devices (Greensboro, NC), and Synergy Microwave (Paterson, NJ). Although the range of their products extends from the smallest of 90-deg. power splitters (from Mini-Circuits) to sophisticated (and not inexpensive) computer-aided-engineering (CAE) software suites (from Agilent Technologies), the criteria for selecting these products is the same: these are new products that allow engineers to approach their jobs and create designs more easily and efficiently, to save engineering/product cost and size, and to achieve new levels of performance.

The RF Design Environment (RFDE) software tools from Agilent Technologies, for example, provide system-level verification of RF circuit designs and physical-level modeling of components within a circuit layout. The design and verification functionality, developed in conjunction with Cadence Design Systems (San Jose, CA), is meant to improve the efficiency of the integrated-circuit (IC) design process.

Some of the company names on this year's list are relative newcomers to the top-product notoriety, even though these are well-established firms with solid track records. The PN9002 radar-stability test system from Aeroflex, Inc. (Plainview, NY), for example, offers a different look at test equipment, designed around plug-in modules fitting into two VXI racks. With a standard (military) frequency range of 2 to 18 GHz (and optional range of 0.4 to 18 GHz), the test system can check the amplitude and phase stability of radar pulses at pulse widths as narrow as 200 ns. The $160,000 system can replace custom measurement solutions costing more than $1 million. Additional outstanding measurement solutions represented on the list include a new line of Infinity Probes from Cascade Microtech (Beaverton, OR) for on-wafer testing of the next-generation of high-frequency silicon-based devices, including those fabricated on silicon-germanium (SiGe) substrates, and the wideband CCMT-6510 65-GHz coaxial impedance tuner from Focus Microwaves (Dollard des Ormeaux, Quebec, Canada), a marvel of mechanical and electrical engineering. For engineers working with electromagnetic-compatibility (EMC) testing, the unique Radiant Arrow 26 "bent-element" antenna design from Amplifier Research (Souderton, PA) provides frequency coverage down to 26 MHz (and to 5 GHz at the high end) without occupying the space of conventional log-periodic antennas.

The ADV-3000S DDS source from newcomer Advanced Radio Corp. (Reston, VA) offers microsecond switching speed from 20 MHz to 3 GHz (and can be extended to 18 GHz) with unheard-of spurious performance of better than −90 dBc for a DDS. Ideal as a local oscillator (LO) for signal-intelligence (SIGINT), electronic-warfare (EW), and radar systems, the source boasts low phase noise, 1-Hz frequency resolution, and the capability to generate a wide range of modulation formats, including quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) and quadrature phase-shift-keying (QPSK) modulation. Also in the area of signal generation, the CRO line of ceramic resonator oscillators from Synergy Microwave Corp. (Paterson, NJ) offers new levels of performance from an existing technology, while the MEMS-based oscillators from Discera (Campbell, CA) stand as a radical departure from existing oscillator technologies and perhaps an eventually replacement for the long-trusted quartz crystal oscillator. In addition, SiGe direct quadrature modulators from Hittite Microwave Corp. (Chelmsford, MA) offer enough bandwidth (as much as 3 GHz) for the most exotic modulation formats, while one of the first source products from startup Centellax (Santa Rosa, CA) is the industry's highest-frequency fractional-N synthesizer, employing a merchant SiGe process to generate clean signals to 30 GHz.

As a sign of the growing WLAN market, several chip sets were included on the 2003 list, including RF and baseband devices from RF Micro Devices and integrated solutions for both 2.4- and 5-GHz WLAN systems from IceFyre Semiconductor (Kanata, Ontario, Canada). IceFyre's SureFyre chips (for 5-GHz 802.11a systems) and TwinFyre ICs (for 2.4- and 5-GHz 802.11a/b/g systems) include a unique Class F switch-mode GaAs PHEMT amplifier capable of +21 dBm output power at 5 GHz with better than 35-percent power-added efficiency.

Another innovative amplifier technology represented on the list is the grid-array millimeter-wave power amplifiers from Wavestream Corp. (West Covina, CA). Also based on a GaAs PHEMT process, the amplifiers, which use spatial-combining techniques rather than passive hybrids, have achieved +36 dBm output power at 1-dB compression at 38 GHz from a single chip. Finally, the barium-strontium-titanate (BST) materials from Agile Materials & Technologies (Goleta, CA) may represent one of the most ground-breaking developments during 2003. Given that these materials can change dielectric constant with applied voltage, these dielectric materials should give rise to a new generation of voltage-tunable devices, such as delay lines and phase shifters, appearing on future Top Product lists.