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Next generation microwave radio: alternative materials, compact solutions/more efficient production processes

By incorporating new materials and more efficient production, a superior generation of high-capacity microwave radio links is developed in order to reduce existing technology costs by 50%. This next generation product targets new and emerging markets.

High-frequency point-to-point radios, called microwave links, are commonly used in the telecom industry today to interconnect two points. The two points could be two buildings or base stations for telecommunication, and the distance between the two points can be up to 50 km. By using microwave links, integrators and operators in the telecom industry achieve a very cost effective alternative when establishing new fixed and wireless networks. Microwave links are divided into low and high-capacity links (called PDH (Plesiochronous Digital Hierarchy) and SDH (Synchronous Digital Hierarchy)). There is ongoing change in the telecom market for microwave links. Fierce competition is forcing a lot of companies to rethink and outsource the development and manufacturing of high-frequency radios to others. As a result of this, a new OEM-market (Original Equipment Manufacturer) is opening up with huge opportunities for those who quickly establish themselves in this emerging niche market to become leaders. Among the opportunities there is huge potential and growth in new market areas such as the former RUSSIAN FEDERATION, CHINA and in the long-term INDIA. This new OEM-market gives rise to different demands for microwave links compared to the telecom market's traditional areas. The new demands are: * Microwave links with high capacity (i.e. SDH links) * Significant reduction in price - 50 % compared to current price level * High quality in respect of product and delivery time * Broad frequency coverage * Products that are easy to integrate with existing products and management systems. A complete coverage of frequencies should span from 7 GHz (gigahertz) up to 38 GHz. This project is aiming to develop a new family-platform for microwave links including the frequencies 7, 8, 13 and 15 GHz, since these are the most requested frequencies on the Russian and Chinese markets. Using this new family-platform, complementary frequencies can be developed as a second step in the future. The main challenge in this project is clearly to reduce existing technology costs by 50%. To achieve this, new materials, new technology solutions and more efficient production processes must be incorporated. In addition, production of the new microwave links must be carried out in a low-cost region in close vicinity, in this case LITHUANIA. To successfully achieve this, close cooperation between several partners throughout Europe is needed. Each partner must have its own special knowledge and action must be taken together in order to achieve the ultimate goal. For that reason this project group has been formed by partners who complement each other in all facets. The new microwave links will be produced by HANZAZS ELEKTRONIKA SIA in LATVIA. This implies a huge challenge concerning the technology transfer needed to establish a sufficiently modern, up-to-date and technologically qualified production plant with satisfactory quality control. Areas where new technology solutions will be developed and new materials will be tested and applied are: * Bare-board microwave (microwave PCB (Printed Circuit Board)) * Enclosure of the microwave chips * Other boards, IF-boards and synthesizer * Housing for the unit * Separation into modules - to enable reuse of components and parts within the product family. The microwave PCBs currently being used are costly and complicated, due to the fact that demands on circuit layouts and signal grounds at high frequencies are exacting. In comparison to PCBs used in traditional electronics, the cost for microwave PCBs used in SDH-links is 100 times higher! The main challenges in the development of the microwave PCBs are: - Electrical characteristics: discontinuance on the circuit layout is critical at frequencies up to 38 GHz. This makes great demands on etching and manufacturing processes of the PCB. This problem will be tackled by simulating and verifying the demands of accuracy by VIKING MICROWAVE and UNIT UK LTD. - Thermal characteristics: high capacity microwave amplifiers results in high demands on the PCBs thermal characteristics, which in turn, affects the length of life of the radio unit. Heavy simulation and actual measurements are required to solve this. - The PCB is made up of layers of different materials, which is complicated and results in a number of potential problems such as de-lamination or pealing between layers. New solutions must be found and then proven on a consistent basis by UNIT UK LTD. - The reason for demanding the use of only standard materials in the new PCB is because of the short delivery time and low cost. This in return makes great demands whereby the new materials must qualify for microwave frequencies and its thermal characteristics. This will be simulated and thoroughly tested using test chips. To our knowledge, this approach is completely new for microwave board applications, and the use of standard materials will be applicable to a wide range of microwave devices in the future. - Component mounting on the PCB must be made simpler than today and demands careful study of the PCB and component characteristics in respect of the solder process. The process will be simulated and tested using test chips. To be able to mount all components using a standard pick-and-place machine, enclosure will be required for the components that are delivered as chip only. Low cost standard enclosures will be developed for this purpose. This process will be designed using simulation tools and verified with a number of test chips. The cost for other boards, IF-boards and synthesizers must be reduced considerably by redesigning and selecting new and more cost effective solutions. The cost of the unit housing must be reduced significantly. This will be achieved by redesigning and the selection of new low cost production materials. Alternative processes such as chemical etching, laser cutting and plating must all must be experimented with so as to determine a "best method" for all levels of the product's creation. As part of the overall cost reduction approach, a large number of subsystems and components will be reused within the product family. This in turn makes heavy demands on technical analysis during pre-study, because a number of subsystems will see increased complexity. SAF TEHNIKA SWEDEN AB will be responsible for the R & D of the radio and microwave units, enclosures, housing and the overall project management. SAF TEHNIKA SWEDEN AB will also use its advanced and valuable test equipment for verifying and testing the radio and microwave units as well as other electronic components. UNIT UK LTD will be responsible for developing and evaluating new manufacturing processes for the microwave PCB. UNIT UK LTD will also bring its specialist knowledge and experience in the area of materials technology and PCB development. HANZAS ELEKTRONIKA SIA will add its experience and knowledge in cost effective setting up and production of electronics and mechanical parts. They are also responsible for building up the required know-how within the production plant in LATVIA, to meet the listed requirements for production optimising, quality, testing and cost optimising. Based on its long experience in the production of electronic equipment, HANZAS ELEKTRONIKA SIA will also develop the new production processes and quality assurance systems required, which are normally not used in the traditional electronic manufacturing business. This project will create new jobs in LATVIA for a production that otherwise would have to be located to low cost areas in Asia. With a new high capacity and low cost microwave link, new opportunities will open up on price sensitive markets such as the Russian, Chinese and Indian markets. This will greatly benefit OEMs such as NOKIA, ALCATEL, MARCONI and any other integrator of wireless technology. The operators/carriers of wireless networks such as ORANGE, VODAPHONE, OMNITEL and many others, would also benefit from the project's innovation. As this project forces each participant to research, develop and execute its successful findings, the newly proven methods and products can be applied and used for similar European companies. Keywords: microwave radio link, telecommunication, high-capacity links.
Start date: 
15-07-2004
Project Duration: 
20months
Project costs: 
2 020 000.00€
Technological Area: 
High Frequency Technology, Microwaves
Market Area: 

Raising the productivity and competitiveness of European businesses through technology. Boosting national economies on the international market, and strengthening the basis for sustainable prosperity and employment.