Executive Interview: Bob Donahue, CEO of Anokiwave
When was Anokiwave formed, and what was the original mission of the company?
Anokiwave was founded in 1999 as a design services company by Nitin and Deepti Jain. They built an impressive list of millimeter wave intellectual property and designs and had a reputation of engineering excellence and first-pass design success.
Anokiwave was named by founding member Deepti Jain after the Hindi word “Anoki,” meaning “extraordinary” and “unique.” In 2013, the company was re-founded as a product company focused on silicon phased array products.
What motivated you and others to join the company?
The people that joined Anokiwave in the beginning were their customers.
Because of their excellence in engineering and reputation and the belief that radical industry change was imminent, due to the convergence of the unprecedented demand for bandwidth and the continuing advancements made in the silicon industry, we believed this could become an exceptional product company.
There was an emerging market to support highly integrated, low cost millimeter wave silicon products for phased array-based antenna systems. We also believed the emerging 5G technology would be based around this new architecture and millimeter wave frequencies for a commercial world.
Describe Anokiwave’s vision and your strategy to create it.
Today, we have evolved into the world leader for silicon millimeter wave active antenna chipsets.
We are enabling the commercialization of phased array or active antennas in all forms and use cases of 5G, satcom and radar communications. We have a clear market focus of enabling low cost commercial active antennas. We have proven technological leadership with the broadest portfolio of silicon core ICs available today. We also take a systems approach to our designs, looking at the design from the customer’s perspective for each use case. As a result, our ICs perform well in their active antenna arrays.
We have over a decade of millimeter wave active antenna silicon IC experience, five years of focused innovation and three generations of millimeter wave silicon ICs. We are making commercial phased arrays a reality for 5G and satcom markets.
You said Anokiwave’s millimeter wave silicon ICs are enabling active antennas in all forms. Discuss how you are enabling the various markets using phased arrays.
We built our IP portfolio and learning on the challenging A&D use cases. The A&D and satcom industries historically have been “early adopters” and leading users of millimeter wave technologies. These systems required high performance, and the customers understood the capability and performance of Anokiwave’s technology and products. That learning was invaluable in the growth of our portfolio into products for 5G and satcom terminals. It allowed us to develop high quality, rugged solutions that we then drove through rapid cycles of total cost of ownership cost reduction.
Today, we see an explosion of use cases that are all supported by the depth and diversity of our scalable products. We enable the successful and rapid commercialization of phased array or active antennas in all forms and use cases.
We started with a focus on X-Band, K/Ka-Band satcom and 5G 24/26, 28 and 39 GHz silicon core ICs and provided learning platforms or ready-to-use arrays to help the market launch. Now that the market has momentum by itself and as we have gone through the technology learning and implementation curve, we are focused on continuing to improve performance, to offer multiple variants to meet the unique requirements of each use case within these markets and, most importantly, to drive the cost down to what we call “ultra-low cost” ICs.
With silicon-based ICs, we continue to innovate and lead the market in performance, digital functionality, cost reduction and thermal management. With rapid cycles of innovation on these fronts, we expect millimeter wave active antenna technology to become ubiquitous. By 2020, every 5G and satcom network operator, every OEM and likely every UE (user equipment) manufacturer will be using active antennas in high volume. This market is moving faster than anyone predicted, and we are prepared to address every use case within these markets.
How do you expect each of these markets to develop in 2019? Will we see production announcements of “Anokiwave inside”?
2019 is a true 5G commercial ramp into production. Across the industry, it is beginning to be recognized this has happened in advance of conventional wisdom. In the first half of 2019, we will put into the marketplace complete RF signal chains for all bands and all use cases for 5G.
In satcom, we think the industry is poised for explosive growth with multiple high capacity systems either already on-orbit or planned for the near future. In response, we have just introduced our latest IC family into the market that features performance improvements, cost reduction and digital functionality that simplifies active antenna design. The new K/Ka-Band ICs enable active antenna or phased array satcom ground terminals that can auto-align and auto-position and support satcom-on-the-move using LEO, MEO and GEO satellites. In the future, additional bands, like K/Ku, will be introduced.
Our A&D and radar portfolio offers a complete plug-and-play IC family for X-Band radar. We believe these products are the best performing ICs commercially available.
With 5G, where does Anokiwave fit in the structure of the supply chain, from semiconductor supplier through the operator?
Companies like ours that provide the active antenna integrated circuits do not sell directly to the service providers, but we have a pronounced effect on helping them resolve the technical issues and manage the capital expenses and the operating expenses to make 5G happen. Our market leadership is defined by our systems level of understanding, our long history of excellence in providing highly integrated silicon millimeter wave ICs and our unique product portfolio.
This year, we will continue to lead the market with the introduction of complete RF signal chain ICs in all millimeter wave bands from 24 to 40 GHz. The system architecture behind the family will lead us into both dual and single polarization architectures and all use cases, from infrastructure to consumer. Our current portfolio of ICs is in volume production, with the newest generations just entering the market this quarter.
We’ve been impressed with Anokiwave’s ambition, reflected in your boldness adding very talented staff and expanding facilities and locations.
We invest in people. We have a bold, visionary, scrappy, innovative, winning and rapidly learning culture. The company is founded on our core principles of respect, collaboration, accountability, internal transparency and a core of innovation. You can see these values being reflected by every employee, each day. Everyone at Anokiwave is motivated, works as a team and goes above and beyond to make a difference. We have a very diverse mix of young as well as experienced people, working together equally to innovate in new ways. This culture is part of our DNA and is reflected in our market leadership. We reward and promote leaders with these characteristics.
Our anchor locations are in San Diego, Boston and Taiwan. We are expanding to Austin and internationally soon.
Some view China’s role in 5G as a national security threat to the U.S. Yet China’s 5G market and companies like Huawei and ZTE are opportunities for Anokiwave. What’s your perspective?
It’s well known that China has focused on sub-6 GHz primarily and has not invested strongly in millimeter wave yet. Huawei and ZTE are extremely successful companies. When they invest strongly in millimeter wave products, they will be very successful again.
Discuss the lessons you’ve learned from your various career roles and how Anokiwave reflects them.
The years of experience in my career have given me many lessons which I have applied to Anokiwave. We built the vision of the company, wrapped a strategy around it, resourced it, created alignment, executed against metrics and hit reset when needed — as a team.
People are the most important part of any company, and the most important thing is to invest in the people with characteristics like high ethical standards, self-motivation and success. We strive to develop a tolerant inclusive culture that is both driven and accepting of mistakes — it’s the best part of engineering, solving problems.
We reward performance with equity. All of our employees are owners of the company.
You’ve worked at very large and established companies, such as Raytheon, and now a disruptive start-up. What makes a company a good place to work?
It’s all about the people and culture. We are a team that thinks big, differently, boldly and embraces new challenges.
We saw the need for the commercialization of active antennas before the rest of the market and took the risk. We developed ICs that enabled this technology and market discontinuity.
Most of the microwave community looked at us skeptically and questioned our approach. But with a clear focus and a committed team, Anokiwave has continued to lead the market and introduce products well in advance of our competition.
Every day we learn something new, and we continue to challenge each other in new and innovative ways. We have built our culture as a learning organization, with rapid cycles of learning, which enables us to react quickly to market needs. It’s an exciting environment for all of us.