The Brainstorm: Editorial Advisory Board
What is one prominent challenge that you face on a daily basis in your market sector?
Matt Lee, Founder & Technical Team Lead, Oscium 
One of our greatest challenges is delivering high-performance solutions within an ultra-low power design. Although our specific limitations are unique to our app-based accessories, there is a macro trend toward low-power solutions. Wireless products depend on a limited charge, so the answer is either to increase the design footprint or become more efficient. We’ve found that customers want everything to be miniaturized, so there’s really only one good solution: Become more efficient. Now, silicon manufacturers and other partners know this and they try to help us – unfortunately, it's a slow process.
We all know Moore’s law says that chip performance doubles every two years (although some would argue that it doubles every eighteen months). That’s great, but it would really help us if chip power efficiency doubled every two years as well. That’s not the world as we know it. We work hard to challenge every assumption and drive efficiency in every trace because it matters. To the extent that we’re successful at meeting that challenge, it’s a huge win for customers.
Bill Conley, M2M Systems Development Engineering Manager, B&B Electronics 
Ease of use. Decisions are getting tougher for customers because there are a lot of very fluid moving elements within a monitoring system, and more potential players in the process. Carriers, software-as-a-service providers, system integrators, and multiple hardware component providers are all in the mix depending on the complexity of the system. Ease of use is the most critical element of any design, product, or deployment, and that’s getting tougher.
When a customer needs to deploy a system that includes components, such as cellular routers, IP-based cameras, Ethernet switches, wireless and wired sensors, and more, a plug-and-play design is vital, and must be applied through the entire network – from the device asset all the way through to the analytics.
Expecting a customer to deploy or debug a system under these circumstances is an exercise in frustration. One of the major pain points is the ability to quickly provision a cellular router onto a carrier’s network. Rather than a simple process, dealing directly with carriers can be confusing, and lead to purchasing the wrong data plans. Combined with practical concerns, like bi-directional communications, sensors integration, remote analytics, and intranet-based wired-to-wireless infrastructures, the probability of installation issues increases significantly.
For customers, the easy part is visualizing the value of an intelligent network. The difficulty is execution. Overcoming ease-of use-barriers by providing a complete solution through referrals, partnerships, and identified resources for the customer is the way to enable connected intelligence.
Phyllis Cosentino, Product Marketing, National Instruments 
Helping our customers in the wireless sector innovate faster. At National Instruments (NI), we address this challenge by providing flexible future-proof solutions — solutions that readily adapt from the design to test stage — and helping our customers quickly come up to speed on new wireless technologies.
A prime example of a flexible solution is NI’s Vector Signal Transceiver (VST), which contains an integrated signal analyzer and signal generator and offers 200 MHz of bandwidth. This is helpful long term for testing carrier aggregation for LTE-Advanced, so in effect it future proofs our equipment. With our graphical system design approach, the software-defined nature of our testing solutions allows customers to modify the function of their test systems on an as needed basis. By leveraging the FPGA within their VSTs, our customers have been able to achieve ten times the reduction improvements in their test solutions. With the VST, we deliver R&D grade modulation quality measurements in a package that can be used all the way from initial design through production test.
In terms of helping our wireless customers come up to speed on new technologies, we recently launched ni.com/rf-academy. It has material to help anyone working in the wireless industry — from beginners to experts — understand the latest wireless testing techniques.
Janine R. Whitacre, LTE Market Program Manager, Electronic Measurement Group, Agilent Technologies 
A prominent challenge that Agilent engineers face on a daily basis working in wireless test, is understanding the latest needs of engineers in the industry who face a broad range of work from design to validation testing to manufacturing to deployment.
Each area has its own requirements, and at Agilent, we work to understand our customers’ needs based on multiple criteria, such as bandwith specifications, accuracy, measurement speed, ease of operation, and time to first test.
Agilent spends a lot of time understanding the requirements of performance and functionality to make engineers more productive and provide more insight into their work. For example, for carrier aggregation, how easy is it to set up multiple carriers or what specification is needed to analyze a design versus what is needed in manufacturing where speed is critical? We focus on optimizing the equipment so it can be used into the future.
The new Agilent EXM wireless test set focuses on speed, accuracy, and port density for meeting today and tomorrow’s needs, and the new Agilent UXM test set for R&D is built on a platform to meet the demanding performance needs of design engineers now and into the future.
Brad Gilbert, Sr. Product Manager, FreeWave Technologies 
From a product management point of view, building product value is a daily challenge.
It is imperative to keep products positioned properly in a constantly changing market and with rapidly changing technologies. Not many companies can identify, develop, and sustain all of the critical components that make a product a consistent, long-term winner. It is vital for product teams and companies to understand the core competencies and technologies, and frequently go through the classic determination of build versus buy.
If core competencies and long-term strategies are understood within a company and a product team, these exercises and the subsequent due diligence are readily accepted business processes.
As an understood business process, product management and product teams can look for complementary partnerships where innovation and time-to-market offer a clear competitive advantage. However, partnerships are clearly not a panacea, they require constant management and oversight. They regularly present challenging aspects to long-term product viability, because of competing priorities and resources, and market opportunities for each participating partner.
Nonetheless, with proper due diligence and constant vigil, partnerships speed time-to-market, infuse innovation, and build a product ecosystems, which are key to building product value on a daily basis and a winning product.
Charles Trantanella, VP of Engineering, Custom MMIC 
As a high frequency MMIC (Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuit) component supplier to the microwave industry, I would say our daily challenge is understanding where and how our customers use our MMICs. Engineers buy our components to build subsystems and systems, and along the way they face numerous challenges to overcome – ones that we cannot always anticipate.
The more we learn of how our customers use our parts, the better we make them. Still, we are component developers and not systems experts, so the challenge is recognizing an approach within our design boundaries — whether it be a certain package pin-out, an all positive bias scheme, or feature such as a positive gain slope — that can really help our customers overcome their problems.
With the typical design cycle of an MMIC lasting months, it is crucial we understand where our components will end up before we send them to fabrication. Hindsight is something we work to avoid on a daily basis, as it is too expensive for our customers in both time and cost.
Edgardo Menendez, Field Applications, AVX 
Introducing a new technology to a market saturated with passive components is a good challenge to have. A new technology, if different and better than what exists, stands out in the crowded room of the passives components industry.
AVX introduced its multilayer organic (MLO) technology to the world about two years ago. MLO technology competes directly with existing LTCC technologies that have been used for years to build passive components used to design and build devices that operate on the RF/Microwave principles. Some of the types of components that can be achieved with MLO technology include diplexers, couplers, crossovers, capacitors, inductors, and integrated modules.
MLO differentiates itself because, unlike LTCC, MLO components are not manufactured using ceramic materials. Instead, MLO uses low loss organic materials to build RF/Microwave passive components that exhibit exceptionally high and better performance, high quality factor across frequency, low dielectric absorption, and a coefficient of thermal expansion that is matched to most FR4 type of PCBs used today. All of this is achievable most often in packages with similar or smaller footprints and much lower profiles.
Asking customers to take valuable time out of their schedule to test something they’ve not seen before, and hearing their delight that the parts exceed their expectations is part of what makes this an exciting industry to be in. So, while introducing MLO technology and components to a market accustomed to ceramic parts has been a challenge, it has also been exciting to be at the forefront of passive component innovation.
This article originally appeared in the January/February print issue. Click here to read the full issue .