From the 4G onslaught to the smart grid, home networks, medical, and defense markets, near-term opportunities abound for microwave companies.
A year's end signifies the finish of a cycle, the closing of projects and budgets, and planning for the year ahead. In today's quickly evolving microwave market, applications are diverse. They include the expanded use of the 60-GHz band, the evolution of fourth-generation (4G) communications, and ongoing optimization of defense systems. In dollars, the industry is looking for more revenue from applications in the medical, defense, smart-grid and energy-harvesting, and communications arenas. The communications sector alone encompasses opportunities in telecommunications, home-area networks, gaming, and more. Such growth offers revenue opportunities to companies across the microwave and RF market.
In the medical and healthcare markets, for example, product opportunities range from magnetic-resonance-imaging (MRI) systems to wireless patient monitoring (involving both the products and networks). One recent targeted example is an engineering prototype from West Wireless Health Institute. This non-invasive wireless device, dubbed Sense4Baby, integrates the functionality of traditional cardiotocography (the standard technology for measuring fetal heart rate and uterine contractions). Data can be viewed anywhere cellular or Internet service exists (via smart phone, web portal, etc.). Such capabilities could significantly simplify fetal and maternal monitoring via lowcost wireless technologies while reducing the burden of care associated with high-risk pregnancy.
Another growing area is the ability to access patient records wirelessly. For instance, the Telehealth/Telemedicine Aggregation Manager (AM) from Continua Health Alliance member Texas Instruments enables personal health devices to log data in a remote electronic health record for both family and clinical review. Another product targeting this area is Cambridge Consultants' Minder. Powered by the Vena platform, which complies with the Continua Health Alliance standard, it enables continuous, real-time medical data collection and transmission via cellular networks. The Minder gateway captures wireless medical data and transmits it to a patient's online health record. It also can receive real-time updates to the checklist, thereby enabling two-way communications with healthcare professionals or caregivers.
With the Vena technology, Cambridge Consultants leverages its experience with CSR's BlueCore and QUALCOMM's Wearable Mobile Device (WMD) hardware. It implements Continua Health Alliance standards for personal-area-network (PAN) and wide-area-network (WAN) interfaces. Devices based on Vena can receive data via Bluetooth or Universal Serial Bus (USB) from Continua-certified devices and transmit this data via HL7 over cellular networks. The Vena wireless healthcare software stack embeds the Bluetooth Health Device Profile (HDP) optimized for the secure transport of medical data and the IEEE 11073 standards for compatible exchange of information between devices. For its part, QUALCOMM's WMD supports a variety of third-generation (3G) networks and provides integrated Global Positioning System (GPS), accelerometer, and Bluetooth technologies.
This merging of standards in one device will be typical for the medical market. According to Texas Instruments' Anne Huang, Business Development Manager, and Erling Simensen, Product Marketing Manager, "Certainly, the home-health market segment offers promising opportunities for medical-electronics manufacturers as well as PAN and LAN technology providers. Bluetooth, Bluetooth Low Energy, ANT/ANT+, ZigBee, and Wi-Fi will be widely adopted. In addition, the market will demand low-power, high-performance processors to handle more wireless connectivity options and multimedia processing."
A similar recipe is being used for sports and wellness applications, which are growing alongside the wireless medical market. Texas Instruments recently introduced two low-power, short-range wireless-connectivity solutions for consumer- medical, mobile-accessory, and sports and wellness applications. The CC2540 single-mode Bluetooth systemon- a-chip (SoC) and the CC257x ANT network processor promise to enable target applications to operate on a coin cell for more than a year. Huang and Simensen observe that exciting RF opportunities are emerging in the consumermedical and home-health segment. The main applications include chronic disease management, remote patient monitoring, and independent elderly living. Existing medical markets, such as asset/patient tracking and hospital wireless networks, will continue to grow.
Monitoring is quite the buzzword these days with individuals looking to track everything from their workouts to their home's energy usage. With "smartgrid" rollouts beginning around the globe, consumers are beginning to track the energy usage of their HVAC systems as well as individual appliances. With such communications capability, they can even adjust thermostats remotely to conserve energy (Fig. 1). According to Larry Hawkins, Business Development Manager for Analog Devices' RF Group, "We see very good growth coming from the smart gridmainly automatic meter reading at the outset with condition and control to follow. Another growing area for ADI is building controlremote control of windows, shades, lighting, etc. in homes and offices."
While smart-grid solutions are widely discussed these days (see "Communications Embraces Data And Energy Monitoring," October 2010), building control is a rather new concept. An example of such a solution hails from Leviton Manufacturing, which has partnered with Insolroll Window Shading Systems to develop wireless, battery-free sets for solar shading (Fig. 2). The solution incorporates a wireless self-powered, independent room control architecture, advanced thermal-energy solar-shade fabrication, and Somfy wireless motorization technologies. The Solar Shading system's modular architecture uses intelligent Radio Technology Somfy (RTS) RF motorization technology with Leviton's suite of self-powered, EnOcean-enabled LevNet controls.
Smart-grid and building-control applications clearly translate into opportunities for all manufacturers that have a part in one- and two-way communication devices. Due to their huge surge in popularity, however, they also present a unique opportunity for test and measurement providers. Darren McCarthy, RF Technical Marketing Manager at Tektronix, notes, "We continue to see new market opportunities emerging in the alternative energy fields and green technology trends. Specifically, there are new challenges emerging in noise management and interoperability concerns from new sources of interference and challenges with the deployment of smart-grid technologies. Utilities are using ZigBee and wireless-LAN technologies to simplify the control and monitoring of their networks. These common technologies operate in the same frequency bands as common household technologies and must compete for spectrum. Depending on the urban density and spectrum utilization, the choice and range of technologies must be considered. Also, the use of fixed versus mobile reading methodologies must be reviewed."
An emerging area within smartenergy technologies is energy harvesting, by which wireless devices will be powered by gathering the excess energy in their environments. Last month, Linear Technology and Energy Micro AS combined their power supplies and low-power 32-b microcontrollers to showcase the opportunities for smart-energy-harvesting applications. The demonstration relied on Linear's LTC3588 piezoelectric energy-harvesting power supply and Energy Micro's ARM Cortex-M3-enabled EFM32 Gecko microcontroller (Fig. 3). They created a wireless sensor node that acquired data from a three-axis accelerometer and transmitted it over a ZigBee RF transceiver. The energy harvested from a piezoelectric transducer is stored on a capacitor bank for later consumption by the accelerometer and radio, which is done according to the MCU's optimized sequencing software.
Energy harvesting and storage also are among the technologies being researched by the defense industry. At a keynote at this year's IDTechEx Energy Harvesting & Storage USA 2010 event, Rockwell Collins announced that it is assessing energyharvesting technologies combined with fuel cells and new thin-film lithium-ion batteries to reduce the weight that soldiers have to carry. In addition, Boeing's Dr. Liam Pingree spoke of the applications that are currently being assessed by the company. Among them is energy harvesting for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
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According to Information Gatekeepers, UAVs also are perhaps the fastest-growing military market for fiber optics. Its report, "Vol. 1 - Market for Fiber Optics in Military & Aerospace Avionic Systems," includes both military and commercial aircraft including fighter aircraft, transport aircraft, UAVs, and commercial aircraft. IGIC estimates the total fiber-optic market for these two markets, which was $306 million in 2009, to reach $703 million in 2013. Among the factors driving this growth are the need to reduce size and weight, the need for higher bandwidth, and the opening of the UAV market. The increase also is due to greater acceptance of this technology, which is being driven by the rapid acceptance and developments in the telecommunications field.
Of course, numerous market opportunities exist in defense and aerospace. As summarized by Agilent Technologies' Jan Whitacre, Wireless Program Manager, and Chris VanWoerkom, Aerospace/Defense Program Manager, "Next-generation radar, electronic-warfare (EW), and guidance systems are being developed to detect low-mobility targets, deliver real-time video (e.g., UAV piloting and surveillance), and defeat IED remote triggers. Aerospace, defense, and satellite industries will continue to move into the Ka-band for radar and communications applications. Higher frequencies also come with much wider bandwidths. Microwave imaging applications are operating at much higher frequenciessometimes over 100 GHz." They also expect to see orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) adapted for use in satellite and defense applications, which will require development of non-standardized waveforms.
Of course, OFDM is at the heart of 4G communications like LTE as well as WiMAX. As such, its growth is already on the rise and set to grow even further in both the infrastructure and handheld markets. Home networking and entertainment also are expected to drive the growth of wireless products and technologies in both the far and near term. To support this network, most individuals seem to agree that the femtocell model is most appropriate for the near future. ADI's Larry Hawkins notes, "In the communications infrastructure space, the higher data usage rates are driving the need for more base stations (of all sizesmacro, micro, pico, femto, and small cell) plus repeatersas well as added backhaul capacity, where RF/microwave is one of the main options."
As a large part of the home-entertainment market, gaming also is driving communications innovation. On the cutting edge, a recently developed brain-control headset is making wireless mind gaming a possibility for the future. The EPOC consumer wireless headset from Emotiv is a wireless, real-time brain-wave (EEG) acquisition device that uses 14 non-invasive sensors to measure brain-wave signatures. Those signatures are produced when a wearer thinks of up to 13 gaming-applicable cognitive actions: left/right, push/pull, lift/drop, rotate in six dimensions, and vanish. (If the wearer thinks "push," for instance, a gaming object will be propelled away from him or her. If the user thinks "pull," it will be drawn toward him or her.) The headset, which incorporates a gyroscope to detect movement, also can detect facial expressions and even emotional states. It therefore knows how the gamer is feeling or responding, which means that on-screen characters or games could be designed to respond empathetically. The data is transmitted using a Nordic 2.4-GHz transceiver to a twin transceiver located in a USB wireless dongle plugged into a computer USB port.
A game changer in the communications landscapealbeit a long-expected oneis the Federal Communications Commission's approval of unlicensed devices for "Super Wi-Fi" in the television spectrum from 50 to 700 MHz. Super Wi-Fialso dubbed "Wi-Fi on Steroids"is expected to provide a range of several miles while providing download speeds similar to what is delivered by a cable modem. Although such deployments are a little farther reaching in terms of when they will actually roll out, they promise a new model that can be used for everything from communications to smart grid and medical.
As summarized by Sherry Hess, Vice President of Marketing at AWR Corp., "The proliferation of microwave radios in cellular backhaul, sensors for automotive, industrial, and medical systems, deployment of the white space' frequencies in former TV bands, as well as consumer electronics will no doubt spur market opportunities and growth in the coming months. All of these wireless' applications demand that serious attention be given to performance metrics such as power consumption, space conservation, and cost reduction, which also translates into an increased use of EM simulation, yield analysis, system-level design and analysis, and designing for manufacturability." From current component performance levels to the cutting-edge features in software and test and measurement equipment, it is certain that the microwave and RF markets are equipped to fulfill the needs of these emerging applications.