Most wireless today is microwave. But it wasn't always that way. Microwave was initially associated with radar, transmission lines and other special wireless applications like satellites and relay. Now it is a microwave world celebrated this year in Montreal. This is the 60th year of the IEEE microwave conference now known as IMS but previously known as Microwave Theory and Techniques Society (MTT-S). The first conference was held in New York City in 1952 with only 210 in attendance. This week almost 10,000 are expected to meet and discuss the state of the art of microwave.

The Plenary

At the opening plenary session, Vice Chair Christophe Caloz and General Chair Ke Wu laid out the stats of the show. An impressive 448 podium papers, 164 interactive forums, 40 workshops, 7 short courses and 351 student papers present the latest in microwave technology. This year there are also 569 exhibitors and that is up over 10% from last year.

The plenary continued with the introduction of 22 new IEEE Fellows in the microwave area. The annual Harry Diamond Award was presented to Baruch Levush of the Naval Research Labs for his contributions to the art and science of vacuum device technology.

The plenary concluded with a talk by Steve Mollenkopf of Qualcomm. He discussed the challenges of making 3G/4G chipsets for the mobile data explosion. The Qualcomm Snapdragon is one of the leading processor chips for handling the multiple chores of smartphones. Mr. Mollenkopf talked about the rapid growth and complexity of the chipsets as they attempt to keep up with the wireless data tsumami and the higher data speeds. It is expected that 50% of the total broadband connections to the Internet will be mobile and wireless by 2015 with smartphones and tablets handling the video and other applications yet to come. Qualcomm is working to get greater speeds by making chips with greater bandwidth, more links (MIMO), more antennas, carrier aggregation and clever network topology. This permits carriers to keep up with Moore's law. Some of the challenges are handling multiple bands in one phone, creating compatibility and co-existence for multiple radios and antennas, and dealing with the thermal problems as chip geometries and phone size continue to decline. A key need is tunable high Q filters and the front-end "plumbing" meaning multiple pole switches. On the thermal front-end Mr. Mollencompf sees envelope tracking and digital pre-distortion as helping to solve the problem in power amplifiers. And he apparently sees millimeter wave phones in the future in some form.

The Exhibits

My first pass through the exhibits was humbling. With over 500 vendors it is going to be a challenge to figure out what is what. The test and measurement companies are all present and I hope to have more to say about them tomorrow. Represented are Agilent, Aeroflex, Anritsu, National Instruments, Rohde & Schwarz, Noise XT and Tektronix. Many were showing new products for testing and measuring the new Wi-Fi standard 802.11ac. Each year the frequencies get higher with upper limits now 26 to 50 GHz with wider bandwidths.

Although I have not talked to any yet, companies making GaN chips and transistors were all present and accounted for including RFMD, Cree, TriQuint, Freescale, NXP and some others I hope to discover tomorrow.

Also well represented were the cable and connector folks and the design software companies. More on those later as well.

Oh yes. I just have to mention the historical display of early microwave gear from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Very impressive. It is in great contrast to the technology today. Early microwave components were crude and large. Amongst the ones exhibited were klystrons and magnetrons and some other special vacuum tubes. Waveguides were the transmission lines and antennas were helical designs, horns and the early dishes. The MTT-S group has done a great job of preserving and displaying this history.