Give us a thumbnail view of Integrated Device Technology (IDT) and the genesis of your RF business.
The IDT RF business has historically been very focused on supporting the wireless infrastructure market; more recently, we have released products to support the broader communciations market. Most people have only seen the switch and digital step attenuator (DSA) products, but the core business was developed around high linearity mixer IP that the original team developed. This developed into a portfolio of complex modulator and demodulator products for the wireless infrastructure market, and we have really grown from there.
What types of RF products does IDT offer and what markets are you focused on?
IDT develops a broad range of products including switches, DSAs, voltage variable attenuators (VVA), digital variable gain amplifiers (DVGA) and mixers that support the broad communications market and the wireline and industrial markets. In addition to those very visible products, we develop more complicated products that include modulators/demodulators, RF synthesizers and others that are primarily focused on the wireless infrastructure market but have applicability in other communications systems.
Your RFICs seem to incorporate unique circuit architectures which, more broadly, you call “smart silicon.” What do you mean by smart silicon?
The RF team has traditionally developed silicon-based products. This is where our core innovation has been focused and where we will continue to focus our innovations. Silicon offers the best platform for high levels of integration, control and calibration, but there are certain areas where combining it with other technologies is the right approach. If there is a strong technical advantage, such as very low noise figure combined with high power handling, then we will make use of other technologies such as GaAs. We do this in such a way that we include as much “smarts” in the the silicon as possible and make the GaAs die as simple as possible. We have found this is an effective approach that opens up a broader set of products and markets to us and minimizes the shortcomings of GaAs-based products.
Given all the fanfare surrounding 5G, where do you think the proverbial hockey puck is going — meaning what opportunitites are you and your team focused on?
As always with the rollout of new standards, the definition of “5G” depends on who you are talking to! We recently started to look at the wireless infrastructure market as three sub-markets:
The first is the traditional macro market; this is and will remain a key component of any wireless infrstructure rollout. We continue to evolve our product portfolio and see a general trend of increasing integration and the need to support frequencies in the 3.5 GHz range.
The second sub-market is the sub 6 GHz active antenna system (AAS) market. This is a new and exciting market, where the RF complexity is lower than the macro space, but the opportunity is made more interesting by the number of antenna elements, which range from 16 to 64 antennas per sector. This market segment is starting to roll out now and will offer growth over the next few years.
Finally, there is the millimeter wave piece of the puzzle, and I think this is what many people are referring to as “5G.” There is a lot of attention focused on the benefits that this can bring, but it is still early in the cycle, and there are lots of challenges that need to be addressed, including formal allocation of frequency bands!
We are investing in all three areas and will continue to provide our customers with the solutions they need for all of their wireless infrastructure needs.
How are you addressing CATV infrastructure and DOCSIS 3.1?
We are primarily focused on the infrastructure piece in CATV and offer high performance VVA, switch and DSA products that address the broadband and high linearity requirements that CATV systems demand.
You recently closed your acquisition of GigPeak. What motivated the acquisition and how does it complement your RF strategy?
The GigPeak acquistion was focused on the optical piece of their business. They have some interesting RF capabilities, and as the integration progresses we will get a better view of how we can optimize our combined RF expertise. But honestly, it is still pretty early in that integration process, so not too much to tell at this point.
In December 2015, IDT acquired ZMDI, an automotive and sensor company based in Germany. This seems to have been a very strategic move to position IDT to be a strong player in automotive. Do you see the automotive market providing growth for your RF business?
Automotive is a challenging market to enter and with the ZDMI acquisition, it really gave us a leg up on the qualification requirements and access to automotive customers. At the end of last year, we announced that both the Dresden and Penang facilities are Automotive Electronics Council qualified (AECQ). This provides an easier entry into this market for RF. However, this is a slow-moving market that requires patience as the design-in, qualification and ramp phases all take longer than traditional markets, so it won’t be a major driver for RF in the short term.
If you integrate across the market applications where RF/microwave technology is employed, are you encouraged by the outlook for growth globally? What challenges do you see for the industry?
RF challenges are growing, and they present significant obstacles for many of the communcations systems that are being deployed and looking to be deployed, from DOCSIS 3.1 to millimeter wave communications. I don’t think the outlook has ever looked brighter if you are in the RF space, and I don’t see anything on the horizon to suggest that this will change. There are always macro trends that offer short-term headwinds, but I think if you look at the long-term picture, it looks great.
One of the major challenges is finding the talent we need — not just engineers but also business and operations people. As an industry, we need to continue to invest in developing our people and providing opportunities for new students to enter the industry and team them up with more experienced mentors.
Tell us about your background and what attracted you to the RF/microwave industry.
I entered the RF industry when I joined Marconi (in the U.K.) as an apprentice engineer at 16 years old. As part of the apprenticeship program, I had the opportunity to experience many different areas of the RF world. This included working on radiation hard silicon on sapphire products for space applications, 2.45 GHz car alarms, early Wi-Fi products — both at 2.4 and 5.8 GHz — and even up at 68 GHz on Gunn oscillators for FMCW car radar. This broad range of applications made my work very interesting and challenging, which are two key elements I always look for in any role I take. I was fortunate enough to have a phenominal set of mentors at Marconi that not only pushed me to go to university but also supported me with employment during the summers and again once I graduated.
My career has continued to evolve; I started as an applications engineer, then transitioned to IC design when I moved out to the U.S. I then transitioned into a marketing role after getting frustrated that the products I developed always seemed to have a specification that was incorrectly defined or missing. Now I am a GM of an RF business. I have enjoyed each of the different roles, and they provided me with a broad experience base that I find very helpful in my current position. I have worked for start-ups, mid-sized and large multinational companies. All three have their pros and cons, and I have learned a lot at each place. Typically, the more difficult the situation, the more you learn!
If you were giving an elevator speech to a student entering college, what would you say to encourage him or her to consider a career in this industry?
All communication systems rely on high performance RF products, whether it is mobile phones or high throughput satellites (HTS). RF provides you with the opportunity to experience an ever-evolving, diverse set of technical challenges. This is a job that allows you to point at things and say “I helped make that happen,” which is pretty cool!