The Shaughnessy Report: The Future on Display at DesignCon

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It’s always nice to get out of the wintry East Coast in January, and once again, DesignCon was calling my name. Every year, 5,000 or so engineers descend on the Santa Clara Convention Center for this signature industry event.

This may have been the biggest show yet; there were packed aisles for much of the show with very few down times, even on the afternoon of the second day. Show managers UBM put on an ambitious event with over 100 sessions in the 15-track conference program as well as almost 200 exhibitors.

Every DesignCon has an unofficial theme; a few years ago, it was the “Jitter Show.” This year may have been the year for PAM4, four-level pulse amplitude modulation, which was the topic of a variety of presentations and one panel discussion. Used by the SerDes engineers who dwell in the 112 Gb/s arena, PAM4 data has three separate eyes and four levels, so it’s a whole different ballgame. There’s currently a back-and-forth discussion between design engineers about whether PAM4 is even necessary.

Another big topic at DesignCon was 5G—one of the main components of IoT. Some engineers I spoke with said they were still searching for the perfect laminate for 5G, which is up to 1,000 times faster than 4G and features super-high bandwidth and low latency. There are still a lot more questions than answers regarding 5G. There was a little bit of political talk with engineers worrying about Huawei’s dominance of the 5G equipment market. The U.S. government has ruled out using Huawei systems in its 5G networks, fearing that Huawei equipment could be used to spy on Americans.

This marked the first year that I can remember where DesignCon and IPC APEX EXPO took place during the same week. It was a fairly constant topic of conversation at DesignCon. Having been involved in planning a trade show, I understand how it is; sometimes, you don’t get much of a choice of dates, and you take what you can get. IPC and UBM certainly didn’t want their shows to run opposite each other. I ran into a half dozen “road warriors” on the second day of DesignCon—engineers who had just flown in after attending the first few days of IPC APEX EXPO in San Diego.

The mood at DesignCon was upbeat. Company owners and managers were optimistic about the industry and the future and excited about the possibilities this new technology may bring. Quite a few managers said their companies were doing better than ever. I met some new graduates and a few other new hires; several companies predicted they would be hiring this year or in 2020.

To read this entire column, which appeared in the February 2019 issue of Design007 Magazine, click here.


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