Microwave Journal

Executive Interview: Brecht Francois, Chief Technology Officer and Henrik Andersen, Chief Marketing Officer of iCana

September 15, 2023

1. Foxconn acquired arQana’s Wireless Telecommunications business and rebranded it as iCana. Can you tell our readers a bit about this newly constituted iCana?

It all started in 2018 as arQana Technologies and focused on aerospace, defense, radar and satcom. In 2020 however, we realized that there was a niche market opportunity in 5G infrastructure. As you know, 5G requires densification, but for the small cells, there were not many RF IC solutions available in previous generations of infrastructure. Hence, arQana Technologies at the time, shifted our focus to 5G infrastructure and started providing the niche market of 5G small cells.

In 2022, arQana Technologies’ 5G Wireless Business was acquired by Foxconn, then rebranded as iCana. In short, iCana is a fabless semiconductor RF component supplier for the wireless telecommunication infrastructure market. iCana is now fully owned by Foxconn and operates as an independent subsidiary of Foxconn. As an IC development company with its vision on 5G infrastructure, iCana is entirely aligned and supporting the 3+3 company-wide strategy in Foxconn, in which semiconductors and next-generation communications are key pillars.

2. Foxconn is a very large company. How have their resources helped advance the iCana vision?

Foxconn’s financial backing of iCana is helping iCana to execute their vision to become a tier-1 5G infrastructure supplier in the future.

Besides providing direct funding of iCana, Foxconn has a large internal resource pool of legal, human resources and administrative functions that have helped grow iCana from a start-up to an SME. They also provide a large network of suppliers and customers that helps accelerate iCana’s growth.

3. On your website, you list partners with expertise in silicon, GaAs, GaN, SoC and MMIC technologies. What is the vision of iCana and how do you see these partners advancing this vision?

We understand that partnership and collaboration are key to unlocking the value and benefits of the 5G era and beyond. For this reason, iCana is collaborating in multiple initiatives and with multiple industrial global partners in different areas of the complex 5G ecosystem. In this way, iCana can co-deliver solutions for complex challenges. Specifically, we work with our partners to deliver reference designs that present the customers with a complete solution featuring all of iCana’s products.

At EuMW 2023 we will showcase our reference designs with both AMD and Analog Devices. Our design reduces power consumption by up to 30 percent compared with our competition. Due to our highly integrated IC designs, we deliver the solution in a bill of materials (BOM) reduced by 50 percent compared to other solutions. With our reference designs customers are now able to set up a complete 5G New Radio (NR) Frequency Range 1 (FR1) system evaluation test, including transmitting, receiving and real-time DPD linearization within a real framework. Furthermore, our product lines are pin-to-pin compatible across the major 5G NR FR1 frequency bands allowing our customers to quickly redesign for different markets and applications. This is helping our customers to reduce their engineering efforts and reduce their time to market. Learn more at our website: https://www.icana-rf.com/about-us/our-partners/

4. Since before the acquisition, what is now iCana has been developing a complete line-up of RF components for 5G NR FR1 small cells and O-RU’s. Can you describe those products and your value proposition?

Our team develops high performing RF semiconductor components for the wireless telecommunication infrastructure market, mainly the 5G small cells and radio units. We have developed a complete line-up covering all the active components for the RF front-end in 5G NR FR1, which includes power amplifiers, gain amplifiers, receiver front-end modules and switches. This is all available in a full reference design working with major baseband and transceiver partners. For Frequency Range 2 (FR2), we are releasing the beamforming ICs at EuMW 2023 and will release our up/down converters to the markets later this year and we are partnering to deliver full AiM reference designs for our customers in FR2, as well.

iCana leverages both III-V and CMOS integrated component design technologies to develop its products, enabling cost-efficient and highly integrated solutions for the 5G market. We have great relations with the wafer fabs in Taiwan and by having our headquarters here, we can ensure the production runs smoothly.

5. What core competencies differentiate you from your competitors?

Our approach is quite different from our competitors: Firstly, we offer a complete set of RF components for 5G small cells in both FR1 and FR2. In contrast to some more established competitors, we design in different technologies, from silicon to more exotic III-V compound technologies, to offer a complete range of IC components for 5G small cells. These components are not only valid for sub-6 GHz but we also cover mmWave (FR2) frequency bands. Especially on mmWave (FR2), our products on the infrastructure side can even be applied from the femtocell to the macro base station (BTS). Therefore, iCana is an RF IC one-stop shop for 5G infrastructure.

Secondly, each of our components has a strong technical advantage over competing solutions. For example, iCana’s 5G small cell amplifiers with different peak power levels deliver a performance equal to or even better than the market leader but with a superior lifetime and reliability (VSWR 10:1). Of course, we still design to deliver a very cost-competitive solution.

Finally, iCana provides dedicated support to customers in the 5G infrastructure market. Since we do not have a product portfolio spanning many different applications, our FAE and Customer Support Engineers have a strong knowledge in the 5G infrastructure market. With our location in Taiwan, we provide unparalleled support to all the contract manufacturers, original design manufacturers and original equipment manufacturers and ensure the design-in process is as smooth as possible.

6. What are the primary markets for your products? Where do you see the biggest growth and what market opportunities excite you the most?

Currently, the rollout of 5G mmWave for infrastructure is delayed. The key point for this rollout is the cost per small cell, enabling the densification for 5G. Naturally, this reflects back to some of the main contributors to the BOM in the small cell. Hence, in small cells for mmWave, having multiple beamforming ICs driving an antenna array to steer the beam towards the desired direction, the cost of the beamforming IC is essential. iCana strongly believes that our mmWave solution can really fuel the rollout of mmWave infrastructure, thanks to its cost-performance optimization. This is achieved thanks to development in minimal form factor in a low-cost technology, offering state-of-the-art performance, after its built-in minimum-effort calibration capabilities.

Our primary focus is on 5G wireless infrastructure, and we intend to cover all active components in the RF front-end for FR1 and FR2. We are very excited about our future amplifier product that will launch in 2024 where we will further differentiate in the market.

And we strongly believe that our recent launch of our mmWave line-up, more in particular iCana’s beamforming IC (ICAMB2629-A) from 26.5 to 29.5 GHz covering band n257 and n261, will enable the mmWave market to reach its onset of its exponential growth.

7. You have also developed beamforming solutions that address mmWave bands. What can you tell our readers about those solutions? What differentiates iCana’s products? 

Our first BFIC is targeting the n257 and n261 bands at 28 GHz, while later versions will focus on n258, n259, n260 to cover both 26 GHz and the 39 GHz bands. Our UDC will cover all bands as well. We see a lot of interest in all the bands and are developing the parts at a high pace. Our target is to have the full coverage of all bands in 2024.

8. Where do you see the 5G market going in the future? How will the iCana product portfolio evolve to address that market development?

The 5G infrastructure market is close to the onset of exponential growth. The true 5G small cell explosion worldwide of new 5G small cells in the new 5G FR1 bands still needs to kick off. We notice that currently, we are at the onset of this explosion because new markets like India are rolling out rapidly now. This will help to drive the entire ecosystem and other regions will follow with the rollout.

Another key enabler for the 5G rollout is fixed wireless access (FWA). 5G FWA is a cost and power-efficient way to quickly upgrade old land-line-based solutions – DSL, cable and underperforming fiber services – to gigabit-rate internet access. Especially in the U.S. market, FWA will rapidly expand to provide this service to a growing demand from residential, industrial and government applications. FWA is no longer at 60 GHz but is taking a quick shift towards the 5G mmWave bands at 28 GHz, but even higher at 39 GHz. It is our strong belief that iCana’s IC solutions for 5G FR2 can enable our customers to roll out their low-cost and high performance FWA solutions.

9. Our responses have come from the CTO and CMO of iCana and it sounds like you two work very closely together. Can you comment on the culture of iCana? How do all the different disciplines and geographical locations mesh?

We work very closely together on developing our products to the market demand and tackle opportunities. Challenging, of course, when you are geographically in different time zones: our CTO is based in the Belgium office whereas our CMO is based in the headquarters in Taiwan. Luckily, iCana has always been at the forefront of digitization and cloud-based services and on top of that, we strongly believe it is essential to meet each other in person around five to six times per year to align on the roadmap, company strategy and business.

Having different locations is a solution to tap into the right talent resource pools and ecosystems. Our headquarters in Taiwan, for example, focuses on III-V IC design and manages everything from package design, characterization and final test development to manufacturing and mass production. Our other locations, Belgium, San Diego and Singapore, are mainly R&D sites focusing on IC design and software development but now we are also expanding the sales and customer support operations worldwide.

Naturally, these different locations introduce some challenges but we keep teams as much as possible in a single location and if really needed, we can still find other solutions: e.g., during the bring-up of a new IC development, we fly the lead designers to Taiwan to make sure we have a smooth product bring-up.

Finally, in general, we have a very open culture in iCana. We take special care to ensure all employees are heard through e.g., quarterly town hall meetings and weekly happy hour updates where we share the weekly news and have a small snack and drink.

10. What else should our readers know about iCana?

Honestly, it is amazing to work at iCana! We are a passionate and innovative crew of professionals that desire to continuously improve and learn. It’s where people come together to grow, have fun and make impact. We are committed to providing reliable and value-add solutions to customers and being a workplace for everyone to thrive. Join the iCana team to take an adventure with us and help us shape the future of communications!

See our career page on the website: https://www.icana-rf.com/careers/