Microwave Journal
www.microwavejournal.com/articles/35298-executive-interview-kevin-schoenrock-president-of-the-openrf-association
Kevin Schoenrock

Executive Interview: Kevin Schoenrock, President of the OpenRF Association

January 29, 2021

What is the Open RF Association and why did you form now?
OpenRF™ is an industry consortium founded by a diverse group of global chipset manufacturers and RF front end vendors to create a 5G ecosystem of functionally interoperable hardware and software across multi-Mode RF front end and chipset platforms. We founded OpenRF in response to customer demand for open architectures, enabling 5G device OEMs to take advantage of time-to-market, cost, performance and supply chain benefits. We fundamentally believe that the industry – and more importantly consumers – benefit from the innovations coming as a result of standardized hardware and software interfaces from an open framework. OpenRF will help to accelerate the 5G device ecosystem and to broaden the ecosystem with new vendors.

What are your goals and timeline for each area?
OpenRF has established five Working Groups that will develop the framework to standardize hardware and software interfaces.

  • Working Group 1: Focuses on the register map framework, leveraging industry standards to maximize configurability and effectiveness of the RF front end.
  • Working Group 2: Software API will develop a common hardware abstraction layer (HAL) enhancing the transceiver/modem and RF front end interface.
  • Working Group 3: Hardware RF front end / RFIC will maximize common hardware interface features and functions across chipsets while enabling differentiation.
  • Working Group 4: RF Power Management will define and develop industry leading approaches to RF power management.
  • Working Group 5: Compliance will develop a program to support a robust ecosystem of interoperable RF front end and chipset platforms.

The first OpenRF Release 1 specification is targeted for completion in Q2 this year. In our first release, we will outline a framework for software for register maps, HAL design capabilities, and initial common hardware functionalities and definitions.

Fig1
Source: Open RF Association

Why did you pick these various areas standardization – do you expect to expand to other areas?
The OpenRF Working Groups were aligned to create a robust software and hardware framework that can be certified for compliance and address core compatibility concerns for 5G device OEMs. Currently, we do not have any plans to expand to areas beyond the initial scope established at our launch.  

Who are your member companies, and do you expect additional companies to join?
The OpenRF founding members include Broadcom Inc., Intel Corporation, MediaTek Inc., Murata Manufacturing Co., Ltd., Qorvo, Skyworks and Samsung. Since the launch of the association, we have had two new companies join along with our first strategic advisor and expect to increase our membership throughout CY21. OpenRF is open to wireless device chipset, RFFE, and OEM vendors and related industry companies. Information on membership benefits and how to join can be found on our website at www.OpenRF.com.

What are the main benefits OpenRF will bring to the industry?
OpenRF enables wireless device OEMs to benefit from maximum RF front end choices across chipset platforms, providing lower costs, highest performance, reduced time-to-market and optimized inventory. Let’s take a closer look at these benefits.

R&D Savings: OpenRF will establish basic building blocks and common interfaces that OEMs can leverage and thereby direct their R&D spending to features that will differentiate their solutions in the market. By using an OpenRF framework, industry analyst firm Mobile Experts reports that R&D savings for OEMs, RF front end suppliers, and modem suppliers could reach $900M annually.

Fig2
Source: “OpenRF: Focused Differentiation to Drive Advanced Technologies” Whitepaper, Mobile Experts

Time to Market: OpenRF reduces the risk of surprises during product development and testing. It supports reuse of the control elements and set-up guidelines for the RF front end, essentially pre-qualifying the modem-to-RF interface and allowing OEMs to get their products to market faster. The timing of publication of our specifications is also determined by the lead time for chipset and component vendor development cycles.

Economy of Scale/Optimized Inventory: OpenRF aims to simplify inventory management for semiconductor and OEM companies by reducing the need for custom RF front end functions and features across platforms, paving the way for plug and play interoperability. This will allow for savings in ‘economy of scale’ through hardware simplification as well as software and qualification support.

Future Innovation: OpenRF will develop a framework for system innovation among members. By establishing common interfaces, HAL, basic hardware building blocks and terminology vendors accelerate developments and focus R&D efforts on advancement of system performance. This requires information sharing among industry stakeholders that can be facilitated by an open industry organization like OpenRF.  

While open systems promise interoperability and reduced time to market, how will companies be able to continue innovation in their products?

By their very nature, industry standards are designed to enable ecosystems by standardizing on features and interfaces that enable a robust multi-vendor ecosystem of interoperable solutions. If we take a look at one of the best known industry standards globally – the USB interconnect – consumers can choose from an infinite number of diverse products, while knowing that their device will work with any host. OpenRF is not telling our member companies how they should build their hardware, widgets or software nor are we mandating features. Instead, we’re creating the standard interfaces, software flexibility and basic hardware blocks that will enable our members to customize and optimize their products, while ensuring interoperability across the ecosystem.

Will overall RF system performance be sacrificed to some extent with standard products?
It’s actually the inverse. We’ll provide the basic framework and hooks in the software and hardware to enable advanced feature sets in how devices interact . By removing the challenges and spend around compatibility, coupled with a flexible software platform, we are allowing our customers and members to focus on device performance.

How will OpenRF get “buy in” from the industry to follow the standards it establishes?
OpenRF is comprised of most of the major industry players and it was formed in response to demand from the leading OEMs for open architectures. We are working to build upon the strong base of founding members to include additional RFIC, RFFE, Operator and Test members as well as developing an influential group of strategic advisors – to ensure that we’re helping to solve the challenges in the industry.

Where do you hope to be at the end of 2021?
By the end of this calendar year, we plan to continue building our membership including a robust strategic advisory board comprised of OEM customers in the mobile device, automotive, and IoT sectors. This group will provide valuable insight into customer requirements that will help guide our working group deliverables. By the end of the year, we will have published at least two specification revisions from our software and hardware working groups including a framework for compliance. We anticipate that we’ll begin to see the first OpenRF products come to market during the 2H of 2022.