Interview with Mike Gleaves from Arralis

  • Mike Gleaves - CEO Europe/ Group CTO at Arralis

everything RF Interviewed Mike Gleaves, co-founder, and CTO of Arralis and CEO of Arralis for Europe, a rapidly scaling technology company, providing world-leading expertise in RF and micro- and millimeter-wave technology.

Arralis develops products that are considered the future of global radar and wireless communications. Their Analogue Phase Shifters help speed worldwide internet access. The company was founded in 2013.

Q. Can you give us a brief history of Arralis? When the company was founded and the objective behind it?

Arralis is an Ireland-based technology company, founded at the end of 2013 with the objective of making very high-frequency MMICs for the European market. These high-frequency MMICs were in great demand and there was very little competition as US suppliers were restricted from developing these solutions for European markets by ITAR regulations.

The company’s core focus includes E and W bands where we can take advantage of the highly desirable attenuation windows, allowing the development of very high-resolution radar and antennas; applications of which include autonomous vehicles, satellite communications, helicopter landing, space science, and military defense. Our main focus is on the emerging K/Ka-band satellite communication frequency giving very high data rates from satellite to ground and inter-satellite links.

The head office is in Limerick, Ireland, with design offices in Belfast and Manchester, business development and sales team is based in Harwell in the UK. We also announced the opening of an office in the United States in June, 2019.

Q. What Products and Solutions does Arralis develop?

Arralis designs are highly focused on the development and production of extremely complex, integrated microwave assemblies including antennas, short-range high-frequency radars, up and down-converters, demodulators and other high-performance assemblies.

We design and manufacture the world’s best performing high-frequency semiconductor chips up to and beyond 110 GHz. We have a range of cutting edge modules and subsystems.

Our range of sub-systems are complete transceiver units at millimeter-wave frequencies with built-in phased array beam scanning or fixed antenna solutions. There are two systems available; one that is tailored for Gbps communications and the other for high definition radar. The systems have built-in millimeter-wave devices with frequency multipliers, modulation schemes, and power conditioning boards.

Various antenna options are available, the beam scanning is done with a Rotman lens, tracking with a mono-pulse arrangement and high gain applications with a horn, where a secondary reflector can easily be accommodated.

The Rotman lens produces an output dependent upon the received signal direction detected in its array. It can then transmit in the same direction, automatically, and is truly retrodirective. The Arralis patented version allows monopulse target tracking.

Q. Does Arralis develop more standard or custom products? What is the break-up? Do you expect this to change in the next few years?

Currently, we are a proactive product company and do not design specials. We have an ‘own the IP’ philosophy. We sometimes go for large contracts if we own the IP and there is a commercially viable product at the end. ESA projects are a typical example.

Q. What made you decide to focus on high-frequency bands like Ka-Band and W-Band?

Very simple, less competition, the chance to add high value and therefore a better profit margin. Our aim is always to have a unique technology that has high value thereby maximizing our profitability.

Q. What are some challenges that you face when developing products for these high-frequency bands? 

If it were easy, there would be a lot of competition. However, even we have difficulties integrating devices into products and as the frequency increases so does the difficulty. The major challenge, for which we are developing a unique solution, is to take the products in very high volume. I cannot say anymore as the process is confidential.

Q. Most of your W-Band products operate around 94 GHz. What is the main application for products in this frequency band?

There are many, traditionally it was the band for missiles due to size, weight, and accuracy but we are not making anything like the power needed for that application. So we focus on very high bandwidth inter-satellite links, high definition short range collision avoidance radar and high accuracy height measurement of helicopters and drones.

Q. There is a growing interest in using the W Band for telecommunications. What do you feel is driving this interest? Are you developing products to support this?

The growing interest in communications for space. W band means very small antennas yet high directivity. Wide bandwidth means high data rates so for the mega constellation market, we are providing the front end of inter-satellite links.

Q. Can you tell us more about the beam steering antennas that you develop using Meta materials? What is the advantage of using Meta materials in these antennas?

Actually, we stopped going down this road. We made a 100 GHz beam-steering antenna using liquid crystals; the scan rate was very slow and there were considerable hysteresis and losses. For lower frequencies, this problem is compounded as the LC layer needs to be much thicker. We have patented successfully a beam steering Rotman lens with mono-pulse arrangement that works extremely well at the same frequency and can be used at lower frequencies too. It’s also cheap to produce.

Our high specification car radar for autonomous vehicles uses the Rotman lens patented technology and it can be used instead of the LIDAR and, unlike the latter, it is all-weather.

Q. Can you tell us more about the Tucana range of sub-systems?

The Tucana range is a collection of millimeter-wave modules, centered at 94 GHz. Whilst some customers can handle millimeter wave chips, most cannot so we have installed our chips into upconverter and downconverter modules to enable users to realize their own systems with minimal risk. The inputs and outputs are centered around 6 GHz, making them much easier to handle. In short, the net result is a fast track means of building high data rate communication transponders and transceivers, especially in space, and short-range, super high definition radars. We have even designed beam-steering lens antennas to simplify the system implementation further.

Q. Can you tell more about your Leonis chipset?

This is a Ka-band chipset, designed on a space-qualified process, and aimed at LEO mega-constellations. The chipset gives full capability to design and build high-performance satellite front ends for both uplink and downlink. The devices are high power and low noise, radiation immune Gallium Arsenide semiconductors. The complete range includes LNAs, PAs, Mixers, Multipliers, VCOs and Phase Shifters. They are also available, configured on a PCB as complete uplink and downlink transceiver PCBs with IQ inputs and outputs.

Q. Can you tell more about your Ka-band analog phase shifter for electronically steerable antennas?

Normally, MMIC phase shifters are digital that is designed using several bits – the more bits, the greater the angular resolution. Typically 5 bit is the norm but 6 bits are common too. For LEO satellites, where you have ‘vision’ for 10-15 minutes, we feel that digital phase shifters’ resolution is too coarse to enable smooth tracking and therefore unbroken high-speed data rates. Thus we design analog phase shifting mmics, these are continuously variable and give major performance advantages to beam-steering antenna design, especially where high-speed tracking is required. Click here to read more about this solution.

Q. It seems like 5G will be using mm-Wave Frequency Bands. With your experience in developing products that operate at high frequencies, are you looking to develop products for 5G?

Yes, we have already started, we expect to release base station products in the 25 GHz band in around 18 months’ time.

Q. What is your vision for Arralis in the next 5 years?

To build a brand that is internationally recognizable and to only operate in high-growth high-technology markets where we have a competitive edge. In five years’ time, we will be a household name like Boeing or Airbus.