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Antenna to Bits

Executive Interview with ADI's Peter Real

January 8, 2014
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MWJ: What primary growth markets/applications is ADI concentrating on for the next 12-18 months in the RF market?

PR: The communications infrastructure and microwave backhaul markets have historically been and will continue to be primary areas of focus for Analog Devices. In addition, energy metering, automotive radar, instrumentation, military/defense will also be areas of strong concentration. These markets tend to push RF performance in various ways, which is aligned with ADI’s strategy.

MWJ: ADI has one of the broadest RF portfolios but is best known for data converters and MEMS.  What are you doing to raise awareness of your RF products and expand into new markets?

PR: Yes, ADI is, and has been for some time, the world’s leader in data converters and high performance amplifiers. ADI also offers the industry’s broadest portfolio of RF ICs covering the entire RF signal chain, from antenna to bits. We have over 1,000 RF ICs in our product portfolio, including industry-leading high performance RF function blocks such as PLLs, detectors and mixers to highly-integrated transceiver solutions.

We complement our product portfolio with a variety of design resources including freely available design tools such as ADIsimRF™, ADIsimPLL™, ADIsimSRD™ , ADIsimADC™, Signal Chain Designer, complete Circuits from the Lab™ reference circuits, FMC rapid prototyping kits,  technical support forums, evaluation boards, samples and more. We work closely with our converter, amplifier, power and DSP teams to fully address customer needs and identify potential RF opportunities. We also have dedicated market-specific segment teams that focus on serving customers and offering them complete solutions for a wide range of applications. In addition, Analog Devices participates in industry events worldwide such as IMS, MILCOM, Electronica; conducts technical seminars worldwide both in person and on the web; generates customer newsletters; utilizes search engine optimization and more. We work closely with our distribution partners throughout the world on various promotions. We also have a great RF presence on our web site – www.analog.com/rf.

MWJ: We recently saw the release of the AD9361 highly integrated RF Agile Transceiver™ which has far reaching applications – what are some of the most interesting applications enabled by this new device?

PR: The AD9361 RF Agile Transceiver sets a new standard for wideband programmability and performance in a general-purpose, highly-integrated complete transceiver. With its 56 MHz to 6 GHz tuning range, it addresses most licensed frequency bands and therefore targets a broad reach of existing and emerging software defined radio applications. In addition to wireless base station and radar applications, this device is attractive to hand-held battery-operated communications systems within the defense electronics industry, portable RF instrumentation products within the communications industry, and in general-purpose software defined radio development platform products that are utilized for research and development and educational purposes. For the most part, we have really only begun to see the interesting applications that the AD9361 will enable.  

MWJ: How was ADI able to achieve such high integration levels and broad frequency range/bandwidth on a single chip with the AD9361?

PR: Drawing upon ADI’s deep understanding and expertise in RF communications and high-speed data conversion, we were able to engineer one of the most important RF innovations over the past 20 years, namely direct conversion transceiver technology. This technology significantly simplifies the transceiver signal chain and enables significantly higher levels of chip integration. The direct conversion architecture, coupled with ADI’s unique ability to exploit the special characteristics of deep submicron CMOS, yielded the AD9361 IC which achieves a breakthrough level of integration and functional and performance attributes. For those application needs that require utmost performance, ADI also offers a number of RF ICs that complement the AD9361. These devices further improve input and output performance and include amplifiers such as the ADL5601/2; low noise amplifiers such as the ADL5521 and ADL5523; ADF435x wideband PLL/VCOs and the ADL5501 RF power detector.

MWJ: ADI’s EngineerZone® online technical support community was recently awarded a Commendation of Excellence by the Society for New Communications Research and the Forrester Groundswell Award for use of social media to engage customers in technical design support – how was the community formed and why has it become so popular?

PR: Yes, we are very happy with the awards and recognition our forum received.  ADI launched the EngineerZone community in 2009 as a global online design resource serving engineers across the entire semiconductor signal processing chain. By creating a one-to-many support network, ADI’s design experts help customers to self-service from among a vast number of online technical discussions and learn from other engineers with similar problems. Because the needs of engineers are changing, real solutions are required for real-time problems. EngineerZone is a key part of an extensive ecosystem created to support ADI customers from inquiry, to prototyping and design. ADI's most recent polling data revealed that nearly 85 percent of engineers visiting the EngineerZone community found that it helped them to speed their design process.Active members of EngineerZone help keep the site thriving with their expertise and keep engineers coming back for more.

MWJ: ADI is also a leader in supporting customers with software and calculator tools to assist in selecting and designing with their products. Within the RF group, what new improvements or additions to this portfolio are expected over the next year?

PR: Our design tools are quite popular and are great design resources for our customers. We are constantly seeking ways to improve these tools and add features that will be of value. In addition to new functionality added to our RF simulation tools, we have begun to roll out a new online tool called Signal Chain Designer. Signal Chain Designer is an advanced product selection and recommendation toolset. It brings together a powerful search engine, verified productrecommendations, tested application circuits, integrated Analog Filter Wizard and Photodiode Wizard, and connects to other Analog Devices engineering tools to provide an easy-to-use, one-stop circuit builder for design engineers. In addition to our software and calibration tools, we offer over 100 Circuits from the Lab Reference Designs which are engineered and tested for quick and easy system integration to help solve today’s analog, mixed-signal, and RF design challenges. In addition, during 2013, we also introduced several FPGA Mezzanine Card (FMC) rapid prototyping kits for JESD204 and SDR applications. These support ecosystems include a software development kit as well as an FMC kit, which reduces the design times from months to days.

MWJ: Partnering with other leading cpanies across the signal chain seems to be a trend with ADI. How has ADI strategically aligned with some of the FPGA and software companies?

PR: Our customers have increased their demands to solve complex problems faster.  Entire solutions are now assembled by a group that may include ADI, FPGA suppliers, customers and partners all communicating in an applications framework.  Collaborative teams solve customer problems allowing for faster deployment of complex customer systems. These embedded systems, comprised of a variety of hardware and software solutions, significantly reduce time to market.

MWJ: How are you focusing on distribution of your products globally?

PR: Analog Devices sells its products globally through both direct and distribution channels. We are franchised globally with a variety of broadline, specialty and independent distributors. ADI products are currently sold through the top two top broadline semiconductor distributors, Arrow and Avnet and we also work with companies such as DigiKey and Premier Farnell, who focus on online selling and next-day delivery. We have also partnered with Richardson RFPD, who sell our complete product portfolio and have extensive RF expertise. During 2013, we also added Mouser Electronics as a distribution partner, an award-winning authorized semiconductor and electronic component distributor, focused on the rapid introduction of new products and technologies to electronic design engineers and buyers.

MWJ: What are your plans for major new product introductions over the next year (that you can disclose)?

PR: Analog Devices is at its core an engineering company and we are very fortunate to have such a strong team of RF engineers, including Barrie Gilbert who designed the Gilbert Cell Mixer which has formed the basis of many RF designs for the past 20+ years. RF represents one of the fastest areas of growth for ADI and while we cannot disclose specific product plans, RF is a priority for ADI and an increased area of focus and R&D investment. We will continue to place increased focus on extending the operating frequency range of our parts into the microwave area, while maintaining high RF performance. With the company’s 45+ years of high performance signal processing expertise and as one of thepioneers in RF, we have developed a reputation for pushing the performance barriers over wider frequency ranges and will continue to do so. ADI is recognized for its leading PLL and detector portfolios and we will continue to expand these product areas along with every other product area in the signal chain. During the past couple of years, we have experienced increased customer demand for highly integrated RF ICs that reduce component count and thereby BOM cost without any sacrifice in performance. As demonstrated in some of the latest products we have introduced such as the AD9361 RF Agile Transceiver and our ADRF6xxx integrated RF ICs, integration of individual RF building blocks and the surrounding support circuitry is a focus and something that ADI does extremely well. This will continue to be a focus as customer demand continues to grow.

MWJ: What challenges do you see ahead over the next couple of years for the RF industry?

PR: There are many challenges to be faced in the next couple of years. New multi- standard modulation schemes are pushing the barriers of RF performance. Smaller footprints, reduced weight, higher levels of integration and lower power without any sacrifice in performance continue to be a challenge. For microwave applications, extending operating frequency range is a common challenge and we are pleased to have recently introduced the ADL6010 microwave power detector whichoffers unprecedented linearity and stability over temperature —an important benefit in applications where a low-ratio coupler is used to extract a sample of the primary signal. Looking ahead, ADI will continue to push the performance barriers with new RF and microwave ICs and deliver designs that meet our customer’s needs and reduce risk.

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