Gregory L. Waters is executive vice president and general manager, front-end solutions for Skyworks Solutions Inc. He joined the company in April 2003. Prior to joining Skyworks, he served as senior vice president of strategy and business development at Agere Systems, where he previously held positions as vice president of the Wireless Communications business and vice president of the Broadband Communications business. Prior to this, he held a variety of senior management positions within Texas Instruments, including director of Network Access Products and director of North American sales. Waters received his BS degree in engineering from the University of Vermont and his MS degre in computer science from Northeastern University.
MWJ: What is the outlook for mobile device front-end manufacturers such as Skyworks?
Waters: We are looking at exponential growth. There is a pervasiveness of wireless devices that has led to the transition of RF technology from its early use in simple radio transmissions to today’s networks which include smartphones, wireless LAN, e-books and machine-to-machine communications. Strong consumer demand for online, always on social networking services such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others, is re-inventing how we connect with other people, how we view portable computing, and how we market products and services.
We also expect to see high growth from new RF markets as part of the move toward green technologies such as smart grids and home and building automation. In particular, after more than a decade, the automation market is gaining real momentum given the increasing demand for efficiency, enhanced security and energy conservation. Here, Skyworks is providing ZigBee®-based solutions for applications including lighting control, door and window sensors, as well as wireless appliance and temperature controllers.
Further, we believe RF technology will also play a role in supporting tomorrow’s machine-to-machine communication in the areas of remote inventory ordering and tracking, banking, security and surveillance.
MWJ: How does the drive to cut cost impact Skyworks’ margin in the market?
Waters: Volume and scale allows us to continue expanding our margins. In addition, operational execution, like the company’s recent migration from 4-inch to 6-inch GaAs wafers, and continuous improvement in yields and cycle times gives us the ability to increase margin, particularly within our 2G product portfolio where pricing is a key market factor.
However, and perhaps more importantly, with the move to smartphones and 4G technologies, where complexity increases, we see less pricing pressure and our customers are willing to pay for performance to ensure a positive user experience. Furthermore, today there are simply fewer companies that possess the core capabilities (such as integrating multiple bands and air interfaces, leveraging the advantages of both silicon and gallium arsenide, and making step level advanced interconnects) to meet challenging performance requirements.
MWJ: What are some of the technology trends affecting this shift toward data-centric mobile devices?
Waters: Future devices will need to support multiple air interfaces with significantly improved efficiency. This will lead to a fundamental change in cellular RF. At the heart of the challenge is the need to find new ways to support multiple bands and air interfaces in a single phone and doing so in a way that offers a small enough form factor while improving performance and battery life or heat dissipation, which is especially problematic in data cards and embedded apps.
Skyworks integrates a combination of GaAs and silicon technologies into our handset products to achieve the best cost, performance and time-to-market trade-offs. The needs of a given application dictate what materials and architecture represents the optimal technology. We believe both silicon and GaAs and advanced interconnect technology are essential for device leadership and will allows us to deliver high volume feature phones with better RF connectivity than today’s high-end smartphones and embedded wireless broadband solutions that operate at gigabit speeds. Skyworks is already making volume shipments of new products tailored for high speed data and video applications. We will continue to develop multimode-multiband solutions that will enable smaller, low-cost smartphones while increasing the use of signal conditioning to achieve the improvements needed for high speed wireless data.
One of the challenges for everyone is to address the power needs required by higher wireless data rates, i.e. more symbols per second requires more power. The average power determines the network coverage and the peak power requirements have been steadily increasing along with the modulation complexity for each new standard, from 3G to 3.5G and 4G. We believe new design techniques and technologies are required to address efficiency, reduce noise and increase bandwidth, so one of the ways we are approaching the problem is through signal conditioning and feedback.
MWJ: How do you decide which products to develop?
Waters: In the past year, our engineers developed and delivered to market over 100 products for the handset market alone. As for deciding which specific products to develop, we sit down with the whole team, including the business and engineering sides, and examine the market potential, margins and required engineering that will need to go into a product. We analyze it from multiple perspectives before deciding if it is something we are going to pursue.
In 2005, we were supporting three of the top five cellular OEMs. Today, we are supporting all top-tier handset OEMs and all key smart phone providers. Our goal is to deliver highly integrated solutions at both the chip and module level, saving precious board space on ever shrinking form factors. We continue to perform well across the board by meeting our customers’ demand for performance, size and cost, regardless of the technology process.
MWJ: So how does Skyworks address the challenges to ensure it has the R&D and manufacturing scale to successfully compete?
Waters: We leverage our in-house building blocks to develop highly integrated, cost-effective solutions that provide best in class performance and decrease the handset manufacturers overall billable materials. We also have a deep understanding of system level requirements. We invest heavily in our engineering talent and make sure they have the tools to be successful. Our entire engineering community, regardless of office location, has access to the same device models and libraries to ensure, for example, that our module designer has access to detailed PA information or the latest coupler design. And we spend a significant amount of time on making sure our internal device characterization efforts are aligned so our engineers have accurate models and the best tools to streamline the design process.
We are also focused on developing proprietary technology at the device and packaging level. Our manufacturing team is intensely focused on continuous improvements in our product yields, the utilization of our equipment, our equipment efficiency and return on all invested capital. Towards that end, we have established a hybrid manufacturing model. This approach allows us to maintain very high internal capacity utilization and leverage external foundries as needed.