Millimeter Wave Technology Making Waves In the Present and Future

By Bruce Harpham Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Dawn of a Multi-Billion Dollar Industry

Remember when social media was new fifteen years ago? Today, that industry is worth billions of dollars in advertising revenue alone. The impact of millimeter wave technology will have an even more significant impact because it will enable massive increases in wireless speeds, self-driving cars, and public safety.

What Is Millimeter Wave Technology?

Millimeter wave (mmWave) technology is a type of radio signal that becomes critically important for the next wave of wireless communications. There is no universal definition held for millimeter waver technology. It typically involves frequencies such as 26 GHz, 35 GHz, 28 GHz, and 39 GHz. Historically, these high frequencies were not useful because they could not break through barriers like walls. However, newer hardware and software have changed the story. That’s why we see significant investments in mmWave technology.

Today, mmWave technology is used in a variety of ways despite the lack of mass-market infrastructure. Scientists use it for radio astronomy to study the universe. Closer to home, mmWave technology is starting to become common for safety. ScienceDirect.com reports that scientists already use mmWave to detect explosives and “any concealed items” because they can move through clothing. That is just one of the ways you can use mmWave technology.

Researchers are also using mmWave-style radar in cars to improve object detection and safety. In a car, every pound of weight matters in terms of fuel economy. Fortunately, mmWave radar equivalent is much, much lighter. One industry report estimates that “the total area of a 79 GHz antenna is one-ninth of a similar 24 GHz antenna.” Further, mmWave radar can produce a much higher level of detail. That means that there is a greater chance to correctly distinguish between different objects such as a lamppost, a person, or a traffic sign. This subtle level of detail may also help self-driving cars drive more safely.

mmWave Technology: A Multi-Billion Dollar Industry Is Born

In 2020, mmWave technology is growing and receiving large investments. In February 2020, Verizon’s CEO announced that the company plans to double its number of mmWave sites in the US from 31 to 60. Many people might notice mmWave technology first when it delivers rapid improvements in wireless internet speeds. However, improved wireless internet access speeds are just the start of the mmWave story.

The Top Industries Using mmWave Technology Might Surprise You

According to KBV Research, mmWave technology is forecast to grow to $3.1 billion in value by 2026. Multiple industries are already buying mmWave related products. Market analysts use different measures to estimate which industries use mmWave technologies. Since these estimates change frequently, it is more helpful to focus on the top industries that currently use the technology.

The single largest industry using mmWave technology is telecommunications, which includes carriers, telecom hardware makers, and infrastructure companies. Next, radar and satellite communications make up another large share of the mmWave user base. Finally, there is an increasing appetite for mmWave technology in military and public safety. In April 2020, the US Department of Defense announced a request for prototype technology to develop millimeter-wave and related technologies.

At this point, it is unclear how the US will manage competing demands for mmWave access. The US military has historically been committed to achieving advantages in communications technology. It’s worth remembering that US military spending plays a critical role in creating critical technologies behind the modern Internet and the Global Positioning System (GPS). At the same time, consumer and business demand for better connectivity is a significant problem.

Geographically speaking, mmWave technology is far from universal. According to Grandview Research, North America is considered the number one region in terms of mmWave adoption. On the other hand, the Asia Pacific region is forecast to grow in mmWave adoption rapidly. So far, there is limited evidence of Chinese investment in mmWave technology. Huawei, a large Chinese firm, is an active player in 5G telecommunications, so China will likely become a significant player in mmWave later.

COVID-19’s Impact on mmWave Technology

The global pandemic crisis has disrupted many industries around the world. However, several industries have shown significantly increased demand, such as Internet services and telecommunications providers. In May 2020, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported that “demand for broadband communication services has soared, with some operators experiencing as much as a 60% increase in Internet traffic compared to before the crisis.” This significant increase in Internet connectivity will positively impact sectors that supply Internet-related goods, including mmWave producers. 

It is not just telecom providers that are reporting heightened demand for bandwidth. Zoom, a video conferencing tool, reported $328 million in revenue in the second quarter of 2020 (February to April). That’s more than double the company’s revenue in the same period of 2019. With more than 175,000 new licenses issued, Zoom is exploding in popularity. Other companies, including Microsoft and Google, are quickly promoting their video conferencing solutions. Meanwhile, more people are staying indoors and using digital services more intensively as a result.

These developments indicate that demand for bandwidth — a key driver for mmWave technology — will continue to boom in 2020 and beyond.  

However, it is reasonable to see a short-term decline in mmWave technology spending and expansion. Various countries and jurisdictions have imposed emergency measures that have slowed construction, international trade, and other business activities. As these restrictions are eased in the second half of 2020, we can expect to see an increasing demand for mmWave technology worldwide.

The Winners and Losers in mmWave Technology

As with any new technology, mmWave technology will create new winners and losers. At a regional level, North America is poised to benefit from investing early in mmWave infrastructure. Companies that depend on reliable, high-speed Internet connections, including streaming services like Netflix, Disney, and Amazon, will benefit from increased connectivity. However, increasing mmWave technology adoption will mean less interest and spending on other communication technologies like LTE.

About the Author


Headshot of Bruce Harpham

Bruce Harpham is an author and marketing consultant based in Canada. His first book "Project Managers At Work" shared real-world success lessons from NASA, Google, and other organizations. His articles have been published in CIO.com, InfoWorld, Canadian Business, and other organizations. Visit BruceHarpham.com for articles, interviews with tech leaders, and updates on future books.

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