In this episode, Amos Cheah, Senior Manager of Research & Development, will explore the RF technologies at the center of our everyday life and how the emergence of 5G is likely continue to drive the need for those technologies.
Tyler (T): Hello, welcome to CONNECTED World, a podcast from TE Connectivity. We are glad to have you joining us for this episode of the program. Today’s conversation is going to center around RF technology: what it is, common applications and major trends. Joining me for the conversation today is Amos Cheah. He is the senior manager of R&D and product development engineering at TE Connectivity. Amos, thanks for joining me.
Amos(A): Yeah, thanks for asking me to join the podcast.
T: Absolutely, absolutely. We are excited to get your insights on the show today. So Amos, let’s just start off at the most basic level. Explain what RF technology is and why it’s important.
A: Okay, I will try to explain this. I would like to explain RF technology in this way. So let us understand first what RF means. RF stands for radio frequency. Radio frequency, which refers to radio wave, a destination for electromagnetic wave. They are above the hearing range of human ear, about 20 KHz and extend to just below the infrared region of light, so about 300 GHz. Radio frequency propagation occurs at the same speed of light and can travel in the absence of any medium, like air. When it comes to RF, or radio frequency technology, you are talking about wireless electromagnetic signal that is used as a form of communication in wireless electronics. So RF technology is of knowledge that describes laws of physics that are applied to the generation, conversion, propagation and detection of electromagnetic waves. The description of this knowledge was set down by James Clerk Maxwell with a set of four equations that bear his name. So now why RF technology is important for wireless communication? So, to understand this, I want to bring the importance, to recognize that electromagnetic radiation is unique in its ability to extend electro circuitry into the wireless domain, so anything that can travel to a non-conducting material, mechanic motion, soundwave and even heat, could be used as a means of converting electric energy into information and does not rely on conductive interconnection. So now let’s return to the question of why electromagnetic wave, its base system is so common compared to other forms of wireless communication. In other words, why does wireless almost always refer to RF or RF technology? Why various other phenomena like what I just now described can transfer information wirelessly? There are a few reasons. First is its agility. EMR is a natural extension of electric signal using wireless circuit. So time-varying repetitive current generates electromagnetic field whether you are rewinding to or not. And furthermore, the electromagnetic wave is the precise reposition of the AC component of the original signal. So second is the speed. The AC coupling system, the rate at which data can be transferred depend on how great signals can express variant relations. So, in other words, it turns out that EMR field spectrum is the practical conversion medium even at very high frequency, which means RF system can achieve very high rate of transmission. Thirdly, range, right, because wireless frequency is closely linked to the pursuit of long-distance communication. So if the transmitter is in close proximity, it is often simpler and more cost-effective to use wire. So that’s why EM signal, electromagnetic wave with a modulation technique and receiver circuitry, it has the ability to transfer user signal over a long distance. And lastly, no line-of-sight is required. Only wireless communication medium that can compete with EMR is light. But light is actually very high frequency electromagnetic wave which requires line-of-sight. But for RF communication, a clear line-of-sight is not required. As a summary, there are three points here. First, RF refers to electromagnetic radiation for transferring information between two circuits that have no direct electrical connection. It is time-varying voltage and current- generated electromagnetic energy that operates in the form of wave. So we can wirelessly transfer signals by manipulating and interpreting this wave. And why electromagnetic wave or RF frequency is dominant form of wireless communication? Because it’s the only alternative to the use of light. RF is much more versatile because low-frequency electric waves is not lost via any solid objects.
T: Fantastic! Thanks for that explanation. So, Amos, what are some of the more common applications of RF that we see? Is it used for Wi-Fi routers, or things like that? Can you talk me through some of the common places where we see RF technology use these days?
A: Yeah, it is used in a lot of applications and use cases in a number of industries, such as radar systems, remote control, television broadcasting, remote monitoring, computer, mobile platforms, like mobile phone, and also like router, and other mobile platforms. From smartphones and cellular receivers, or GPS and even more, RF technology is the future of modern life. It’s so unique and ubiquitous that many of us simply take it for granted. So like mobile phones become part of our life. It is amazing that how far we have come in such a short time. There is no sign of demand for RF technology slowing down. So private companies, even government is even using these around the world and are competing to have the latest RF innovation.
T: Absolutely. So it’s a technology that is all around us all the time. It’s incredibly important like you mentioned. So what are the major trends that are developing in RF technology? You know you just mentioned the latest. So what is the latest? And what’s going on as far as trends and developing further RF technologies?
A: You probably know the upcoming 5G revolution. I think everybody heard about it. So it’s one of the biggest changes on the horizon. It is safe we can say that 5G network will be up and running and consumer expectation for mobile speed and performance will be radically higher than today. When more and more people embrace smart phones around the world, their demand for data to continue to rise. And the legacy bandwidth ranges which run below 6 GHz, this simply will not be sufficient to meet the challenges. 5G frequency, I think, will go up to millimeter wave, and even above 20 GHz. There was a report that 5G yields speed of up to 10 Gbps per second. There is no doubt that 5G will offer lightening fast coverage of frequencies which were previously used only for military and satellite applications. So 5G will make this currently available in military and satellite available in consumer. So 5G network will play an integral part in speeding up wireless communication. Perfecting virtual reality and connecting speed of devices we use today, it will be the key to ushering in the Internet of Things you also heard about, in which countless household products, handheld electronics, wearable devices, robotics, sensors, self-driving vehicles, and more will be connected through network speed significantly faster than today. So the bottom line is that the future is very bright for the RF technology and the demand for radio frequency engineering is high. So the next 10 years we will see enormous growth and innovation in this industry.
T: Absolutely. There has been so much conversation around 5G and the impact it’s going to have, and the challenges in making it happen. How will the trend of 5G moving forward having impact for engineers? How will 5G create challenges that engineers need to overcome during this time?
A: There are many challenges that need to be addressed when we move towards 5G standard, which demands much higher data rate, ultra-low latency, high reliability and security. As we know, 4G wireless that now we are using, called LTE and LTE-Advanced have already been developed all over the world. 5G, the future generation of wireless technology requires us new standards to support this ultra-fast, low-latency services to customers. What will be the key to capture technology trends to enable 5G that engineers must face and overcome? It depends on who you ask. For me, I think the key enabling technologies are as below. One first thing is new radio standard for 5G. It is different from LTE and is defined by 3GPP standard. Another one is medium-wave and PhaseⅢ antenna will be common norm. This complexity will require two db. of baseline additional signature. Because of medium wave, you get loss more in the air. Multiple input and multiple output, we call MIMO will offer significant gain in wireless data rate and reliability. And fourth one will be radio access network, called RAN or core network. How will the legacy and new 5G network architecture interact? From the technology’s standpoint, this will mean higher frequency, wider bandwidth, higher efficiency in power. Amplifier is needed. Other needed components will be low noise, floor laminate, and ultra-low data cross, also low cost. Medium-wave packaging also need to develop. Also ultra-high speed and low power AC-to-DC converter. Wideband antenna needs to be developed. Medium-wave antenna, high gain direct antenna, informing antenna need to develop and will become a norm.
T: Amos, how will people be viewing RF technology in five years as the technology continues to move forward and as 5G becomes more and more of a reality for a wider population around the world? How will people be viewing RF and maybe what changes will occur that we will see and perceive RF in a different way moving forward?
A: In my opinion, RF technology and wireless will be synonymous with 5G technology as I have mentioned. 5G will be super highway that will be taking digital transformation to a new height and it will be exciting to see the development that come with it. I think 5G will bring advances in many areas. Here I would like to mention 5 areas that I see significant advancement. First will be smart factories. 5G will play a pivotal role in Industry 4.0. It’s the technology that will connect devices and IoT. 5G will have smart factories to do amazing things. Smart factories will grow the use of robots powered by AI and machine learning. They help to make real-time decisions and they will also be using more robots to do dangerous tasks and helping keep employees healthy and safe. We will see training become safer too, as smart factories bring augmented reality and virtual reality into the training routine, so allow employees to learn faster and safer. The second area I want to talk is also called mixed reality. Because of this increased speed and bandwidth, this will allow AR and VR to expand. So soon, coupled with 5G connectivity, we will see mixed reality as fraught with real world applications, from maps to business applications to appliance applications. And also virtual reality may finally come, the real virtual reality. With 5G, we will see AR and VR used in our cars, phones, even our own computer screens. So it will become a part of everyday life. The third area is autonomous vehicle. 5G could be technology that finally push demo out into the world. Safety is very important. 5G is the only technology that does far enough to allow machines to mimic human because of low latency. 5G won’t roll out overnight. But once it is everywhere and mature, I believe there will be no stopping the development of safe, autonomous machines, not just cars, but trucks and others, and even airplanes as well. The fourth area will be smart city. We all know that up until now smart cities haven’t been very smart. They have optimized some regions, like smart parking lots, street lights. But they haven’t been able to hit the level of high connectivity that makes consistent and marked improvement in our daily life. So too much data on the 4G network is like using slow internet. With this 5G, it’s the only technology fast enough to allow so many devices to connect at such high speed. The development of this technology will be worldwide. The last thing people are also talking about is edge computing. Edge computing allows data to process as close to the source as possible. Because it doesn’t travel as far, it can be processed much faster and make things like autonomous vehicles safer to drive. With high speed and low latency data transmission of 5G technology, the potential of edge computing will be fully realized in a wide variety of applications. From smart cities I just mentioned and factories to environment to real-time offer of analytics.
T: Well, since RF technology is going to play a huge role moving forward and as technology continues to develop, in the technology, we commonly think what is coming, everything from 5G to autonomous vehicles to smart cities like you mentioned. And you also mentioned artificial intelligence. What role does RF play in the development and the use of artificial intelligence?
A: RF technology, talking about 5G, will support the exponential high data loads. So a key factor in the evolution of smart AI, you can get more data. With access to rich data, improved AI will boost 5G performance, enhancing security and reducing congestion and fixing that issue in real time. With 5G and AI working together, data will become more valuable than ever before. I think the working of RF technology currently is not so obvious in today’s world. I like to watch movies during my spare time, especially the science fiction movies, including the Marvel cinematic world. If you watch these movies, you can see some instances of how this AI and RF technology work in perfection, although sometimes it is unrealistic. For example, watch an Ironman movie. Ironman is using RF technology to communicate with his AI, called Jarvis, to gather information as he is flying in his Ironman armor suit and help him to fight the villain. Well, this is farfetched in the future. But with this 5G technology and coming 6G technology, Disney will be even closer to the realistic in the coming future.
T: That’s really a great example. I love the example of Ironman. That’s a fantastic way to put it. It’s something that I haven’t thought of before, but I think that really brings the example home in the way that people can understand, can see how this can potentially work in the future. Amos, it’s been absolutely a pleasure getting a chance to talk to you today and learning a little bit more about RF technology. Amos, senior manager of R&D and product development engineering at TE Connectivity. Amos, thanks you so much for joining me today and giving us the rundown on RF technology
A: You are welcome. Hopefully you all can learn something from this RF technology.
T: Well, I know I learned a lot today. I appreciate you joining us on CONNECTED World. Everyone, thank you very much for listening to this episode of Connected World, a podcast from TE Connectivity. We appreciate it very much. Of course make sure you go and subscribe on Apple podcast or Sportify to make sure you get the latest episodes from TE Connectivity downloaded directly on your mobile devices. We will be back soon with more episodes, but until then I have been your host today, Tyler Kern. Thank you very much for listening.