Microwave Journal

A Conversation With Mario Rivas

June 16, 2010

Mario A. Rivas is president and CEO of semiconductor company ANADIGICS,Inc . He has worked 30 years in the semiconductor business, spending much of his career in the wireless industry. Prior to ANADIGICS, he was the CEO of Quartics, a fabless semiconductor and software company based in Irvine, CA. Rivas earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the Universidad Centroamericana "José Simeón Cañas" in 1977 and M.S. in Semiconductor Physics and M.S. in Management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1979.

MWJ: ANADIGICS has just celebrated its 25th anniversary. Looking back to 1985, the year ANADIGICS was started, GaAs was the darling technology of the DoD and many GaAs foundries were formed. Today, many of those fabs no longer exist. How did ANADIGICS manage to survive where others didn’t?

MR: I believe it is the company’s ability to continually innovate that has kept it at the forefront of the GaAs IC industry, both from a process and product innovation perspective. ANADIGICS has pioneered developments in GaAs IC production since 1985 when it began producing three-inch GaAs wafers for use in RFICs for military applications. In 1999, it opened the world’s first six-inch analog GaAs wafer fab in Warren, New Jersey where it first developed and then manufactured the first InGaP HBT technology on 6-inch wafers designed for cellular and PCS handsets. We did it again in 2004 with the development of “InGaP-Plus”, the industry’s first low-cost manufacturable GaAs BiFET process. These process innovations combined with product innovations such as the design and manufacture of the world’s first commercial dual-band, dual-model GaAs power amplifier for the cellular and PCS markets, have set the company apart from the pack as a leader in high performance RFICs.

MWJ: What are some of ANADIGICS’ key technological advantages and how do they set you apart from other GaAs-based integrated device manufacturers?

MR: As mentioned, ANADIGICS has a long history of process technology innovation in GaAs-based devices. This technology leadership is providing us with some unique advantages while we address the need for high efficiency power amplifiers for the smartphone market. Though some of our competitors have recently announced HBT and pHEMT capability on the same wafer, our InGaP-plus BiFET™ technology is the most mature in the industry. This continues to be at the core of our innovation, enabling us to create unique architectures that set records in terms of PA efficiencies at back-off power levels where the handsets operate most of the time.

MWJ: Your products are mostly power amplifiers and front-end ICs for handsets/data cards, fixed devices (base stations), cable/broadcast and WLAN/WiMAX applications. Which of these is your largest market?

MR: Our largest market is power amplifier modules for handsets and datacards.

MWJ: Which is experiencing the greatest growth?

MR: The highest growth segment is in the 3G and 4G space for handsets and connected devices. This includes UMTS, HSPA and HSPA+. Recently, we have started to see the first wave of LTE devices moving towards volume production.

MWJ: Was ANADIGICS one of the earliest GaAs IDMs to target the femtocell market? what is your position in this market today?

MR: ANADIGICS was one of the earliest companies to design and build power amplifiers optimized for the femtocell market. We have been able to draw on our extensive experience in the design and development of PAs for both mobile handsets and broadband cable infrastructure to balance the appropriate level of integration, performance and reliability in a cost-effective way. We went into this market with a clean sheet of paper and the needs of the femtocell design engineer in mind, and it has paid off as we are having a great deal of success working closely with the industry’s leading reference design companies as well as the OEMs. Our design approach provides the flexibility to support multiple standards with one device, which should help make the job of the femtocell designer easier.

MWJ: Is ANADIGICS entirely in commercial markets or do you have some military focused business?

MR: Today our business is predominantly in the commercial sector. There may be instances where some of our parts are sold through distribution and end up in military applications, however the commercial space – in particular handsets, datacards, CATV - is where the bulk of our business lies.

MWJ: Earlier this year, you wrote an article in EEtimes entitled “Why is CMOS the wrong technology for 3G handset PAs?”, At the time you focused on efficiency as a leading advantage of GaAs. Is this still the primary advantage of GaAs over Silicon?

MR: Efficiency is one of several factors that make GaAs a better choice for 3G handsets today. Currently there are no CMOS PAs in the market that are capable of delivering the sort of linear output power that is needed from today’s popular handsets. To do so, they would have to make compromises that will diminish the end-user experience. Delivering high output power efficiently is a major goal for handset makers to ensure maximum talk time is achieved, and GaAs is a far better process technology than CMOS for delivering linear power. Our GaAs PAs are achieving close to 45% efficiency while meeting all spectral requirements. In addition, CMOS inherently cannot match the ruggedness of GaAs in this environment. I do believe that GaAs is the best process technology choice for giving our customers what they need in their 3G handsets now and as we move toward 4G.

MWJ: Do you see CMOS ever driving GaAs PAs out of the handset market?

MR: CMOS will undoubtedly play a role in the future, but I don’t see GaAs PAs being driven out of the handset market. For what handset makers need for their 3G and 4G designs, GaAs is the ideal technology for all of the reasons mentioned above.

MWJ: I’ve heard that ANADIGICS had an issue not too long ago with meeting the high-volume demands of its customers due to limited foundry capacity. Could you explain what happened and how this has been addressed?

MR: In 2008, our products were in tremendous demand. The market was booming, customers loved our products, and the orders kept pouring in. At one point, the demand outpaced the company’s ability to deliver, and we ran into some issues. Since then, we’ve been working diligently to ensure we are never in that same position again. In October 2009, we announced a strategic alliance with WIN Semiconductors, a leading GaAs foundry in Taiwan to be a second source for our GaAs products. We also took advantage of the slowdown in the economy to update our fab in Warren, New Jersey, including upgrading machines, implementing new processes and offering training for the staff for example. As a result, we’ve seen a significant increase in productivity, doing more with fewer people and faster, while continuing to deliver products with the same high quality levels that we established in production more than a year ago.

MWJ: What level of growth are you projecting for the commercial GaAs industry and how will ANADIGICS meet this demand?

MR: Analysts predict that the worldwide GaAs market will grow to approximately $5B in the 2011 timeframe. Consider the fact that wireless represents between 70% and 80% of the GaAs market, depending on which firm you talk to and cellular is the largest percentage of the GaAs market. ANADIGICS will continue to play to its strengths which is in the wireless /cellular space as we’ve already discussed. We will continue to take advantage of the solid foundation we’ve laid over the past 25 and continue to innovate in to capitalize on the market while strengthening our customer relationships across the board.

MWJ: 3G phones have four or five PAs, and are increasingly being asked to address all necessary switching, signal conditioning and power management. Is this functionality being incorporated into ANADIGICS’ devices? What are some of the pros and cons of handset architecture based on discrete ICs versus integrating all this functionality into a single front-end module?

MR: The short answer is, 'yes', and as your follow-on question suggests, there are many tradeoffs to consider in such architectures, among them cost, size, flexibility, performance and time-to-market. When using discrete ICs, the handset manufacturer has the ultimate flexibility in addressing a 3G market fragmented by bands, carriers and geographies. The manufacturer can select which bands, how many and how to integrate them with the switching and filtering necessary to meet the in-band and out-of-band spectral requirements. Furthermore, the more "discrete" an IC, the more generic it is, and the more likely it can be found "off the shelf". This greatly accelerates time to market which is a critical dimension by which the OEMs compete in an ever-evolving, high-functionality 3G market. The use of a discrete approach generally allows for the matching of highest-performance functionality by technology, such as pairing the world's best HELP4(TM) PA from ANADIGICS with the highest performance filters and RF switches to maximize system performance. The band flexibility, rapid time to market, and high performance enabled by discrete ICs can come at the expense of solution size, cost and manufacturing yields of the handset. Combining power amplification, RF switching, signal conditioning and power management into a single module will generally yield the smallest total footprint, a dimension of great value in the high-functionality 3G handset space. Implementing such a highly-integrated front end requires careful collaboration with 3G chipset manufacturers and front-end partners. This collaboration tends to increase time-to-market, but once available, allows for a very compact solution that can also provide an overall cost and production yield advantage to the handset manufacturer when managed properly. At the end of the day, there's no silver bullet solution that optimizes all dimensions of the front-end. The industry will always march towards higher levels of integration, but the journey is complex and along the way, there are many opportunities to make use of discrete approaches. Given the fragmentation in the 3G and 4G space, manufacturers can take advantage of both the discrete approach and the highly integrated approach.

MWJ: We tend to talk about “the handset” market, but I imagine it breaks down into further sub-categories. If so, how does ANADIGICS break down this market and where do you have the strongest hand?

MR: The handset market does break down into several categories. There is the Cellular domain that is mostly GSM/GPRS/EDGE with UMTS capability, as well as the whole host of CDMA devices. The second area is the short range connectivity with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi / WLAN. Within the cellular domain, the market identifies handsets along the lines of low-tier, low cost phones with no roaming capability, a feature phone segment that is mid-tier, and the high-tier smartphone segments. ANADIGICS’ products are used most often in the mid-to-high tier segments of the market. Our strength is in delivering high performance power amplifiers that minimize current consumption during active phone calls and data uploads. We find that the mid-high tier segments value this performance advantage the most.

MWJ: Last year, ANADIGICS introduced HELP3 (3rd generation high efficiency at low power). Is this based on process/material developments or circuit architecture? Is there a 4th generation of this technology in the works?

MR: Each new generation of HELP devices brings innovation in process technology, device design, circuit design and packaging technologies. The combination of advancements in each of these areas allows us to improve the overall performance of the power amplifiers over generations. HELP3 products have proven very popular in the market, and in fact, we have already announced our HELP4 PA family of LTE and WCDMA devices which provide record current savings.

MWJ: Thank you Mario. Congratulations on your company's 25th anniversary and best wishes for the future.