NXP Makes a Power Play
MWJ: What is NXP’s outlook for the general semiconductor market over the next few years?
JC: NXP sees a variety of growth opportunities for our products over the next few years –with a view to maintaining leadership in areas where NXP has strong technology heritage; such as high performance mixed signal, which includes RF, Analog, Power Management, Interface, Security and Digital Processing expertise. These innovations are used in a wide range of automotive, identification, wireless infrastructure, lighting, industrial, mobile, consumer and computing applications.
We believe the future of technology lies in smarter living – where connected smart devices are intelligently networked for improved efficiency and eco-friendliness. To this end, we recently launched a new campaign for smarter lighting. Our GreenChip smart lighting solution opens an entirely new dimension in energy efficient lighting, that makes the Internet-enabled, energy-efficient lighting network a reality – not just for businesses, but also for consumers trying to make the most of energy savings in the home. For us creating "A Smarter Path to Energy Efficiency" will be driven by intelligent RF products, like smart lighting.
MWJ: NXP appears to have made a conscious decision to emphasize its market leadership in the high performance RF market recently. Can you tell us your general strategy and outlook for this business?
JC: The RF market is dynamic and challenging with a healthy growth potential. The exponential growth in smartphone and tablet use has been unbelievable, and consumers are hungry for more bandwidth. As a result, the global wireless infrastructure system has to support this traffic and be improved to handle an insatiable demand. Cellular providers, municipalities across the globe, and wireless original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are pushing for higher system efficiencies as well.
As a world class supplier in high performance RF solutions, NXP is focused on helping our customers overcome this challenge. For example, when it comes to the most demanding RF applications, the first thing on the designer's mind is meeting performance demands. Through our silicon-based, volume manufacturing process technologies we work with our customers to support the highest performance specifications, while still retaining potential trade-offs with respect to efficiency, power, ruggedness, consistency, cost and integration levels.
MWJ: What primary growth markets are you concentrating on for the next 12-18 months in the RF market?
JC: We see promising demand from markets such as wireless and broadband communication infrastructure, TV and satellite, portable devices, automotive, ISM (Industrial, Scientific & Medical), and aerospace and defense. We’ve also seen some good design-in activity this year.
Based on feedback from our customers, they appreciate the full system offering supported by NXP, from high power amplifiers to RF ICs and high speed converters. Our High Speed Converter (HSC) products, with JESD204A high speed serialization technology, gained excellent design-in traction. The opportunity for this technology is focused on base stations and wireless infrastructure that is associated with the dramatic growth in mobile data traffic. We are currently seeing around 0.6 exabytes per month of global mobile data traffic which is estimated to go up to 6.3 exabytes per month by 2015. What is driving that growth is mostly video with internet access, M2M connections as well as gaming and VOIP. There is a lot of growth in mobile data traffic which is driving a need for base stations.
We have also enhanced our core process technologies, QUBiC4 and LDMOS, and added GaN technology to our product offering. GaN lets high-power amplifiers deliver very high efficiency in next generation wireless communication systems.
MWJ: NXP has a very diverse set of industry leading high frequency processes including LDMOS, SiGe:C BiCMOS, SOI ABCD smart power technology, EZ-HV SOI high-voltage BCDMOS and TrenchMOS technologies. Can you tell us a little about the advantages and application sweet spots for these technologies?
JC: Our advancement of LDMOS technology over the last few years has helped enable new markets for RF Power that were previously unimaginable. One example is plasma lighting – we believe this technology has a bright future. The real kudos goes to the companies designing the plasma lights of course, as they’re pioneers in this space. Our RF power technology provides them a cost effective and extremely rugged amplifier that enables them to ignite the plasma under severe mismatch conditions.
MWJ: What are the advantages of having your own internal semiconductor fabrication facilities compared to fabless companies?
JC: Using 8" silicon lines for our LDMOS, SiGe:C and CMOS has also enabled manufacturing excellence – we are able to deliver fully RF tested solutions with unbelievably tight tolerances, which saves a lot of headaches for our customers.
MWJ: How is the LDMOS business doing and what new features are you adding to your products in the next generation?
JC: Our 7th generation LDMOS process technology really took power amplifier performance to new levels. We improved efficiency by 3 – 5 percentage points when used in a Doherty architecture, and concentrated on improving our ruggedness even further – some customers have called our LDMOS "indestructible"!
We also continue to see our LDMOS technology as a workhorse, with our innovation engineers continually seeking improvements. An example of this is our new Gen9 technology, which we are using to create new device concepts that improve ruggedness even further, reduce losses at higher frequency operation and enable tighter integration with improved on-chip passives. For cellular base stations this enables better Doherty amplifiers with wider bandwidth, higher efficiency and higher gain - all key specifications that are critically important to our customer’s design teams.
These technology improvements are proving beneficial in new RF Power applications areas, such as RF lighting, where the technology is expected to enable higher efficiency in Class-E/F amplifiers.
MWJ: Are you making GaN transistors and how will this fit into your high power portfolio?
JC: Yes, we have added GaN to our technology offering and are launching a portfolio of products this year. By adding GaN, NXP is strongly positioned to offer technology-agnostic solutions that focus on our customers' needs, enabling them to select the best technology for their system from a single supplier.
MWJ: What performance advantages do your SiGe BiCMOS products offer over more traditional GaAs products?
JC: NXP’s QUBiC4 technology offers alternatives to GaAs by achieving comparable or better linearity, lower DC power consumption, immunity against out-of-band signals, spurious emission performance and comparable output power. Most recently, we have developed a carbon-doped SiGe (SiGe:C) BiCMOS process (called QUBiC4xi) that delivers high power gain, low noise figure, and excellent dynamic range to address the industry’s growing demand for more options. When it comes to high performance, reliable and highly integrated semiconductor devices, QUBiC4xi is designed to meet the needs of high frequency applications up to 30 GHz in the wireless, broadband, communications, networking and multimedia markets. With multiple process nodes available, our QUBiC4 allows optimal technology selection based on functionality, integration, and performance requirements.
MWJ: Which markets and applications are you targeting most for these SiGe BiCMOS products (please give a couple example products and specifications)?
JC: We continue to focus on the wireless infrastructure market – the explosion of smart phones, tablet devices, notebook computers and other wireless devices into the market is driving demand for infrastructure equipment. Base stations have the lion's share of high-speed data conversion market for both ADCs and DACs.
Other important vertical markets include ISM (Industrial, Scientific and Medical), Satellite and Aerospace and Defense. Our complete RF front-end offerings, from high speed converters to RF power amplifiers and RF small signal devices provide our customers seamless solutions designed to work together. Our RF power amplifiers, utilizing state of the art LDMOS technology, and JESD204A interface have demonstrated momentum in the radar and software defined radio markets as well.
MWJ: What are recent new products that you have introduced and how are they significant?
JC: New products include:
• GaN power amplifiers – to enable high-power amplifiers for very high efficiency in next generation wireless communication systems
• A complete line of overmolded plastic (OMP) RF power transistors, MMICs and Gen8, our eighth generation LDMOS transistors o Gen8 provides increased power and signal bandwidth along with improved efficiency and cost
• Next-generation devices and improved products include GPS LNAs, medium power amplifiers, IF gain blocks, LO generators, satellite LNB ICs and CATV modules
In addition, our portfolio for the wireless communication infrastructure has expanded, with a comprehensive set of best-in-class Doherty amplifier designs, a broad selection of amplifiers (medium power, variable gain, low noise), mixers, IQ modulators and our JESD204A-compliant, high-speed DACs and ADCs.
MWJ: What challenges do you see over the next couple of years for your industry?
JC: This is a dynamic market which is driven by complex technology in unpredictable economic times. The increasing proliferation of connected mobile devices will continue to present challenges to players in the RF arena. How do you meet tomorrow’s need for energy efficiency, power solutions, lighting or wireless infrastructure without the right tools? These are challenges that engineers face today. At NXP, our continued focus will be to offer our customers the RF solutions that can respond to the toughest design challenges in RF, whatever the future holds.