Friday, December 4, 2009

How Designers Search

The results of a survey by a trade journal serving the Integrated Circuit market on “How Designers Search – Survey Results.” offered some interesting food for thought. The information was gleaned from the 185 managers, engineers and programmers working in commercial or military sectors out of 443 respondents to a survey sent to’s 43,000-plus subscriber list.

The survey attempted to determine how engineers and programmers search for information on technology, what types of content they were seeking, and how they went about finding it. As might be expected, search engines ranked high and were used by engineers, virtually all the time, with Google leading the pack, followed by Yahoo (a distant second) and Microsoft’s Bing.

The survey results also provided insight into how engineers use these search engines. Not surprisingly, most engineers do not give up after the first page of links, but go deep into the result pages. In fact, almost 40% “often” or “always” go as far as Page 10 on their searches. This makes sense for people working in highly technical and specialized fields and represents one flaw in general search engines such as Google. Since they serve the general public, specialized content is easily buried. I know this to be true from my own research efforts, which can often require going far into the Google results. I wouldn’t be surprised if the problem gets much worse before we start seeing a backlash and a shift in the use of search technology and introduction of alternative products/services.

Beyond search engines, online media was ranked as a very good source of information to the engineering community, while emails and newsletters were also highly regarded. Perhaps online media should be ranked as the highest source of information, since search engines ultimately just redirect engineers to these sites anyways.

Social media as a source of information is growing slowly but currently ranked low enough among the survey takers to make some people conclude that social media is greatly overhyped for distributing information. I have a different opinion. I have just recently started using Twitter, Linked-in and Facebook to distribute information that I find useful and assume others will to. If e-mailing a good article to colleagues is common among engineers (which according to the survey, it is), then I believe social media will be adopted for a similar purpose in much greater numbers in 2010. Instead of forwarding an article and listing all the recipients' e-mail addresses, I can forward an article in two mouse clicks via Twitter and cover all the people who follow my Tweets. Think of it as a recommendation service - "As someone working in the microwave/wireless field I found this interesting and think you will to". Its like a custom ad-hoc newsletter. We have just implemented this share capability (Twitter, Linked-in,.. ) on the Microwave Journal web site, and I hope many of you take advantage of it. Engineers may not necessarily be first adaptors but once they discover a time-saving tool, watch out.

The survey found trade shows and print publications still popular but significantly behind search engines for research. This also makes sense. Print has many great qualities, providing a unique, tactile reader experience that the web cannot deliver, although hyper-linking isn’t one of them. I also know that many of our print subscribers hold on to their copies for many months or pass them around the office. This information educates many engineers before they ever go online and fire up the search engine.

In the “What do Designers Want” category, ‘hands-on’ items such as demos, software and evaluation kits rank very highly. On the flip side, vendor articles and webinars ranked moderately low and podcasts very low in response to a “What Information do you seek” question. I found thess results very surprising and perhaps weighted by an abundance of self-promoting, marketing focused articles appearing elsewhere on the web. I know these are a big turn-off for technical people, looking for information to get their jobs done.

Looking at the attendance of MWJ/Besser webinars and download rates of vendor white papers, which remain quite high, I believe the continued popularity of both is testament to the quality of information (and self-restraint) that the marketing people in our industry have shown when developing and presenting information about their technologies and products.

If we can do more to help you find what you need, feel free to comment. The suggestion box is open.

WiMAX Growing Quickly as LTE Looms Large

ABI Research just released a report that mobile WiMAX subscribers will be about 2 million strong by the end of 2009 this month. They state that Clearwire in the United States has already declared 173,000 subscribers, Yota in Russia has been growing at a decent rate reaching 100,000 subscribers in August and 200,000 in October, and PacketOne in Malaysia has reached 130,000 subscribers.

Plus we have UQ Communications that expected to reach 300,000 subscribers by the end of 2009, but is behind schedule in its rollout and will fall short of that initial target. South Korea has seen KT’s and SKT's subscriber numbers remain fairly stagnant, while these service providers prepare for another big push as a third WiMAX service provider comes to South Korea.

This handful of WiMAX service providers alone will account for a significant minority of the nearly two million mobile WiMAX subscribers expected by the end of 2009.

I have read a lot about South Korea's outstanding mobile WiMAX network that works well even throughout its underground subway. They have fast data rates and low drop out rates with a multitude of applications available. They boast the highest broadband household penetration rate of 95% as referenced in our Oct cover story on the US Broadband Initiative (compared to the US rate of 60%).

ABI's practice director Philip Solis says "Mobile WiMAX service providers around the world find themselves in very different situations". Some are mainly focused on fixed services for homes and businesses, while others are jumping feet first into mobile WiMAX, offering a variety of external modems, laptops, netbooks and even handsets tied into HD multimedia services, as with Yota in Russia. Some have little fixed or mobile broadband competition, while others are competing directly against fixed and mobile broadband services.

"Some, such as Japan's UQ Communications, are behind their buildout schedules and subscriber expectations, while others such are Clearwire are increasing the pace of their deployments because of more-than-adequate funding. Still others such as Yota in Russia are exceeding all expectations. Some are remaining local, while others, such as Clearwire and Yota, are building networks in more than one country."

Just as the mobile WiMAX market is starting to bloom, LTE networks from early movers such as Verizon Wireless and NTT DoCoMo are targeting the same potential customers. The LTE ecosystem will eventually be vastly larger than the mobile WiMAX ecosystem, but just as LTE deployments start picking up in 2011 and 2012, some 802.16e service providers will begin upgrading their networks to 802.16m.

How soon do you see LTE taking over the lead over WiMAX for subscribers? I think it will be a couple of years but it will happen. They both have their place depending on the application and location so I don't think one is always better than the other.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

SA Says GaAs Evolving to Stave Off Si Challenge

Strategy Analytics reports that the GaAs industry is creating innovations designed to stave off the dual challenges of integration and low-cost silicon technologies. Newer BiFET and BiHEMT processes will enable GaAs device manufacturers to integrate HBT power amplifiers onto a single die with HEMT-based switches and other functions. Meanwhile, the use of optical lithography for production of smaller geometry processes will enable more cost-effective production of millimeter-wave ICs. But HBT and HEMT processes will continue to underpin the commercial market for GaAs devices which will be worth $4 - $5 billion by 2013, as stated in the latest Strategy Analytics study.

BiFET and BiHEMT technologies will enable the development of a future class of products, providing integrated solutions that retain the industry-leading performance offered by GaAs and necessary for next-generation wireless markets,” noted Steve Entwistle, VP of Strategy Analytics’ Strategic Technologies Practice.

GaAs is still erroneously perceived by many as an exotic, expensive technology,” said Asif Anwar, Director of the Strategy Analytics GaAs and Compound Semiconductor Technologies Service. “The reality is that GaAs technologies continue to meet the requirements from cost-sensitive markets, such as cellular handsets and is the most cost-effective technology for markets that require millimeter-wave performance.”

Mr. Anwar concluded, “The application of optical lithography for millimeter-wave IC production will significantly enhance the cost-effectiveness of GaAs compared to silicon technology-based offerings, while retaining the benefits of performance and faster time-to-market.”

How much progression do you think GaAs BiFET and BiHEMT processes are making to fend off Si improvements in integration and lower cost?