Head of Antenna Engineering
Hanwha Phasor/Phasor Solutions
Project Engineering Director and Head of Antennas
From June 2016
e2v Technologies (now Teledyne e2v)
Technical Authority – RF Technology Group, RF Power division
Dec 2012 to June 2016
Ace Wireless Technology Labs/AceAxis
Senior Manager Antenna Technology
2010 – 2012
Manager, Antennas & Propagation
1989 – 2010
Senior Antenna Engineer
1985 – 1989
St John’s College, University of Durham
BSc Hons, Physics
WHEN DAVID ADAMS ASSUMES HIS ROLE AS PRINCIPAL CLARINETIST for orchestras and ensembles in and around Greater London, concert programme notes state he has pursued a career in ‘electrical engineering’. Few, if any of his fellow musicians, will know that antennas are music to Adams’ well-tempered ear and that he has been working at the cutting edge of antenna array design and resolving its tantalising complexities for some 37 years.
When classical music talent in the UK was championed at county level in the 1970s and 1980s, Adams was taught by well-known clarinetists from the age of eight until he went to Durham University. Reading Physics, he played in the university symphony and chamber orchestras until graduation, teetering on the brink of a career in music but nagged by concerns about the “fanatical competition for very few positions.”
Fatally for his art at least, he had a strong fallback. Adams was, literally, at home in engineering. His father was a military airborne radar specialist so there was much building and mending in the household, particularly of hi-fi systems (although not a musician, his father loved music). There was a lot of chat about radar, “insofar as he could, given the nature of the work,” says Adams but he claims he was just your average kid, “interested in aircraft and ships and all sorts of stuff in those days.”
After his performance in a pre-university placement with the antenna team at GEC Marconi’s Borehamwood research labs, the radar and defence systems company sponsored Adams through college. After summers on placements across the company in different disciplines, he returned to work for them. “Antenna design was all very novel to me, not just designing but building and testing them on outdoor ranges. These antennas looked like metal plumbing except they were guiding electro-magnetic waves. It was an intriguing branch of physics and engineering that really appealed.” He loved the work and, just as important, the team. Working with people on the right wavelength – curious, willing to learn, hardworking – remains an important ingredient in Adams’ professional life.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, design modelling was in its relative infancy, hence antenna design’s reputation as a ‘black art’. Adams explains: “A huge amount of antenna design came out of the Second World War, along with textbooks which had been devised empirically and theoretically. There’s less of that today because the modelling tools are much better.” But he has reservations. He often encounters job applicants for whom modelling seems to have superseded the basics. “It’s like using a calculator. You should have a rough idea of the answer before you punch in the numbers. You shouldn’t always believe what it tells you because you might have asked the wrong question or put the wrong data in. Having a gut feel for what it should do is important.”
That gut feel is based on having encountered a certain problem before. Adams tries not to immerse himself in the detail of simulations. “When you look at a result you have measured, it’s important to ask what fundamental factors could have given you that result, rather than worrying about the minutiae that might have influenced it. It is all about trying to step back.”
As the years go by, he is acutely conscious of “the old cliché that the more experienced you become, you realise how much you don’t know.” While Adams brings a vast amount of experience and knowledge to bear, he is emphatically still learning – learning from his own endeavours and those of his young and gifted team. This includes Senior Antenna Designer Sophie Gomanne and Mandana Adeshir. “Antenna work is still not obvious by its very nature,” he explains. “There is always a greater step between theory and implementation.” He likes the work not being wholly predictable. As Hanwha Phasor’s phased array for mobile satcom has developed, there have been many surprises along the way and a great deal of learning. All that experience is being poured into the forthcoming aero product release.
AT GEC AVIONICS, A VERY JUNIOR ADAMS was steeped in antenna measurements: “little theory, just measuring. It was very instructive in terms of what you expected to see and what to conclude when you didn’t see what you thought you should.”
At telecoms and data networks business Nortel, Adams became involved in project management and liked it, especially interacting with the customer – Qinetiq as it became – on communications to submerged submarines. He can’t say much given the defence application but there were ‘unusual’ trials, all undertaken collaboratively.
The project combined the technical challenges of developing an electrically small antenna that would operate in a very demanding environment, with real-world performance testing over a satellite link while at sea. “This programme provided a great introduction to managing competing factors and collaborating directly with end-users.”
After eight years at Nortel, Adams was leading the antennas and propagation team within its wireless technology lab – a de facto R & D team. “Every year we would embark on a set of programmes, spending 12 months innovating on a particular set of topics, continuing with those that were successful and picking up new ones.”
Renewing his interest in “mixing science with practicalities”, Adams relished trials measuring the degree to which a directional antenna beam is affected by scattering in an urban multipath channel – in this case central London. Before the trial, it had been suggested that the angle-scattering experienced in an urban environment would break up the more directional beams generated in the multibeam antenna, negating any performance gain. “We learned that you could successfully divide up the coverage area of a cell site in a high scattering environment into multiple zones by using multibeam antennas and thereby increase the re-use rate of the spectrum per unit area. As a result, a cell site could support a great number of users, increasing network capacity.”
This tangible performance gain led, over the years, to a range of activities with different cellular technologies, starting with the successful implementation on a live customer network of multi-beam cellular antennas in Haifa, Israel where he worked with Hanwha Phasor’s Head of Systems Design and Systems Design Authority Fiona Wilson. [Link to Fiona Wilson’s profile] Managing both programmes involved him at many levels, from hands-on engineering design to interacting with overseas customers and partners. He credits the international milieu with broadening his horizons.
Amidst the restructuring and reorganising that characterised the fall of Nortel, Adams found himself once more in a purely technical role at Ace Antennas, a group spun out of Nortel. Having managed to “sell ourselves rather than be made redundant,” the antenna team in the UK was subscale compared to the owner’s team in Korea, so it was disbanded.
Next step for Adams was project managing a very high-power magnetron development at specialist electronics manufacturer Teledyne/e2v, aimed at processing copper ore with microwave energy. While he was in his element ─ working on something new with world experts and applying his own hardwon RF experience ─ he missed working on technology he had wholly mastered.
Adams describes joining Phasor Solutions in 2016 as “a complete experiment in career terms”. He had been with many large companies and liked the idea of working in a smaller, more intimate organisation. There was the ‘romance’ of the office at London’s Royal Institution. There was the technological challenge of working not just on an antenna but a system, where performance could only be measured effectively in the wider context. And there were exceptional colleagues.
He was recruited initially as a technical project manager but “found things to do technically” in their own right. “There was huge scope to do what you wanted to do,” which he loved. He was back to being a project manager who knew what he was talking about.
The march of time through funding rounds and the disruption of Phasor Solutions’ eventual bankruptcy had made the initial prototype, now over six years old, redundant in bandwidth terms. However, when the assets of the business were bought by Hanwha Systems in June 2020 and Hanwha Phasor was inaugurated, a big injection of funding revitalised the programme. The bulk of Adams’ work until mid-2022 involved developing the product into a systems integration development platform that would expedite the launch of Hanwha Phasor’s second product – for inflight connectivity.
Now he is spearheading Hanwha Phasor’s land applications.
HANWHA PHASOR IS A DIFFERENT ANIMAL to the original start-up. Adams relishes the more international workforce and the thinking of a new generation of talented engineers, whom, despite a worldwide shortage, continue to flow into the business.
He is keen to stress the benefits of working within a small team that must interact very closely with other teams daily yet remain integral to the big picture. Opportunities to innovate are ever-present as Hanwha Phasor’s ambitions extend to new markets and different frequencies. Antenna performance measurement is an all-consuming puzzle, understanding where it comes into play versus the integrated circuit.
“I like our antenna designers to interact widely across the business, almost mimicking the role of antenna design in the technology itself. The antenna portion is just one part of the whole system. Everything gets radiated or is received through it, yet it interacts very closely with our integrated circuit, a multilayer PCB, software and the mechanical structure. The antenna must be designed with this in mind. For antenna designers, this represents an almost unique challenge.”
BACK TO MUSIC. For Adams, it is about enjoying the moment. “I’ve learned over the years not to focus on hoping to play better next time. You cannot tease apart what it is about the interaction between a musician and the rest of the ensemble which makes for success at a given performance.” By contrast, the unpredictable nature of some aspects of antenna design that Adams enjoys so much will come to an end. The mysteries of Hanwha Phasor’s imaginatively reengineered phased array will be fully unlocked and measurable, which elicits settling and unsettling feelings in Adams all at once.
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