Executive Interview: Karim Hamed, GM of Microwave Communications at Analog Devices
The seemingly insatiable demand for data is driving tremendous development in wireless and wired systems to transport information back and forth from the cloud to the user. Amidst all this opportunity, what applications or markets is Analog Devices focusing on?
Over the years, ADI’s breadth of technologies has enabled us to become the go-to semiconductor solution provider in the communications infrastructure market, both wireless and wired.
In the wireless domain, we provide enabling solutions for both access, macro and small cell, and backhaul, traditional bands and E-band. Similarly, on the wireline side, we have a strong position in cable infrastructure, optical backhaul and data centers.
Now, with the emergence of 5G, we find ourselves in a unique position that will enable us to be at the forefront of this revolutionary technology, whether it is sub-6 GHz mMIMO or mmWave. ADI’s technologies enable us to be capable of providing complete “bits to beams” solutions to our customers.
How are you applying the capabilities of the original Analog Devices with those of Hittite and Linear Technology to provide products along the full signal chain, bits to beams as you say?
As our customers’ problems become more complex and their development cycles grow shorter, they are looking for partners such as ADI to offer good system understanding and provide optimal signal chain solutions. This requires technologies that span the gamut of mixed signal, RF/microwave and power management to systems and algorithms. The combination of technologies from ADI, Hittite and Linear Technology —two companies ADI acquired — enable us to be exactly this partner.
For example, in under 6 GHz 5G mMIMO systems, combining ADI’s market-leading RF transceivers, Hittite’s best-in-class RF front-end modules with efficient power solutions from Linear enables ADI to be uniquely positioned in this extremely important 5G market segment.
Similarly, in mmWave 5G, combining Hittite mmWave beamforming technology along with ADI mixed signal technology, whether it is RF converters or transceivers, and the power solution to efficiently power up the system make ADI the only solution provider that can truly provide bits to beams solutions for this emerging market.
The same applies to other market segments, such as ADEF (aerospace and defense), instrumentation and others.
Discuss your product development process and how you ensure the individual products are compatible with each other and provide your customer with a system solution.
We have a dedicated system team taking a full system view of the specific market application for which we’re developing a solution. This team actively involves all technology groups across the organization to provide the optimal system-level signal chain solution. We also develop complete reference designs to ensure the overall system solution works together seamlessly, as designed.
What semiconductor technologies are on your palette and how do you decide which to use for a new product?
Almost any commercially available semiconductor technology is on our palette, including deep submicron bulk CMOS, SOI CMOS, SiGe, GaAs or GaN. Our design and manufacturing expertise in all these technologies enables us to choose the optimum semiconductor process to meet the performance and commercial requirements for the problem we are trying to solve.
As you well know, the phased array is an emerging technology for mmWave systems, both mobile and fixed, with a vigorous battle among companies arguing GaAs, GaN and SiGe as the best technology for the front-end T/R module. What is ADI’s technology of choice?
Currently, mmWave 5G systems use a hybrid beamforming approach, and our silicon-based beamformer is the key technology that meets the challenges of performance and commercial constraints.
If mmWave 5G systems evolve to digital beamforming in the future, a combination of our transceiver technology in CMOS with our front-end modules — SOI, GaAs, GaN — will enable us to provide our customers with the optimal solution, similar to under 6 GHz mMIMO.
As I described in the previous answer, we determine the optimal technologies depending on the application and the problem we are trying to solve.
More broadly, what rules of thumb do you use for choosing among GaAs, GaN, CMOS and SiGe for communications links? Where are the “sweet spots” for each?
All these technologies are tools in our toolbox. We consider market, volume, performance and development cycle when selecting the right tool to solve a specific problem. So, there really is not a “sweet spot,” as this is a complex process, and we select the right tool to solve a particular problem.
Considering your capabilities in converters, transceivers and individual RF functions, you have a strong market position for sub-6 GHz 5G infrastructure. Yet, you have chosen not to play in the power amplifier space, arguably the largest RF segment in the base station market. Can you comment on ADI’s strategy?
While amplifiers are an important part of the signal chain, I would argue it is not the largest RF segment, especially in the emerging 5G market where, for example, transceivers are the largest and most critical segment in mMIMO under 6 GHz radios. In mmWave 5G, beamformers dominate the BOM.
That being said, at ADI we always explore technologies that complement our signal chain. We continually do so until we find a differentiated option that will complement our portfolio.
How are you participating in the emerging broadband by LEO satellite market, as proposed by various ventures such as OneWeb, Project Kuiper and Starlink?
We are excited about the LEO market and actively engaged on the space side with satellites and the ground terminals. We offer differentiated solutions in this market and approach it from bits to beams, which is like our 5G approach. It plays well with our core competencies, and we are well positioned there, as well.
The IoT seems to be gaining momentum, particularly for industrial and factory applications. How are you addressing this area?
I believe Industry 4.0 initiatives will truly benefit from 5G deployment. This is still emerging, but as 5G starts to deploy globally, we believe that industrial IoT will play an important role, and ADI will be well positioned to take advantage of customer demand.
On the personal side, tell us about your background and what led you to ADI.
I have more than 15 years of experience in the semiconductor industry and, throughout my career, have held design, business development and leadership roles.
Currently, I am general manager of the Microwave Communications group, where I am responsible for the creation and execution of Analog Devices’ strategy for microwave products and solutions.
I came to ADI through the Hittite acquisition almost five years ago, where I was the business development manager for microwave products.
What do you enjoy about your role? Any frustrations?
I really enjoy being part of a team that is developing technologies that are changing the world around us and making a difference in people’s lives. I wouldn’t say frustrations, rather challenges around the complexities around the problems that we are trying to solve.