by Mike Murphy, Senior VP and GM, RF & Microwave – MACOM
MPD: The defense market for RF and microwave components through subsystems appears to be more lucrative than in recent years, especially in the area of electronic warfare. If your company sells into the defense market, what are your thoughts about how it will perform in 2017?
The sequester and Congress’ failure to approve a Federal Budget for several years has had a negative impact on available funds for major defense programs. This has resulted in an increased focus on cost savings and cross-agency cooperation. Major platform programs have continued with requirements encompassing communications, radar (sensing) and electronic warfare, but the clear focus is now upon affordability. This has led to major strategic thrusts such as the DoD’s Better Buying Power 2.0, in which the Government is seeking to more effectively leverage the commercial marketplace. This effort, combined with the increasing RF content in DoD systems, spells a bright future in the defense market for MACOM.
MPD: The fifth generation of cellular is rapidly approaching and the immense scope of 5G seems almost certain to present significant opportunities for the RF and microwave industry. What is your perspective on this issue?
Yes, the whole industry is buzzing over 5G. Too much, actually. We’ve all seen this story before. It will disappoint in the short-term by slipping to the right and shaking out some hopefuls. Then in the long-term it will overwhelm and reward the remaining few. Of course, it’s a big opportunity for the industry, probably the largest one there is. It’s new phones, devices and infrastructure all having significantly more RF content. Therefore, everyone and I mean everyone, across the whole ecosystem is working on this actively. Not everyone can win. It’s too early to pick the winners and losers, but I’m sure you can guess on which side of the fence I predict MACOM will land. Our focus is on the basestation infrastructure, macro and small cell, which are needed to support mobile and fixed applications. We’re going where we can leverage our core technology strengths to differentiate in the RF front-end. We have many unique, proprietary technologies that will be key and tough to beat. We also have a long heritage of competence in phased array and in millimeter-wave applications. We won’t go where we can’t win.
MPD: The Internet of Things (IoT) might better be called the Wireless Internet of Things, as without RF and microwave technology, little could be accomplished. If your company is selling into this market, please provide your perspective on IoT and its prospects for the RF and microwave industry.
IoT is a fancy buzzword but much of the underlying technology has been around for many years. It’s protocols like cellular, 3G and LTE, it’s WiFi, Bluetooth and Zigbee but expanded out to many new applications like medical devices, automotive, infotainment, even trendy wearables like your fitbit, etc. Some of it seems a bit frivolous but I once thought the same about smart phones! So I’m sure much of it will or already has happened. My iphone, iPad and laptop continuously sync my calendar, music, etc. through WiFi and have done that for a couple of years. Anyhow, yes, it’s a big opportunity for RF & Microwave products but not so much for us and probably not so much in the long run for traditional RF & Microwave players. All of these things need wireless transceivers and/or sensors. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the volumes, power consumption requirements and cost sensitivity of these transceivers will be even more challenging than that which we categorize today as consumer. Think handsets or WiFi on steroids. There will be a push to high levels of integration on CMOS to as few chips as possible, one preferably, and produced in the billions and sold for near $0. We don’t play in these kind of markets. We just don’t have the scale. Our focus is on high performance applications where we can make money.
MPD: In your opinion, what are the RF and microwave technologies to watch in 2017?
Well, I think there are three big ones —advanced phased array technology that will feed into multiple markets (VSAT, 4.5/5G and A&D), the continued commercialization of A&D, and GaN. In all three areas, MACOM is very well positioned.
Our long heritage in A&D gives us a leg up. We’ve been working with customers and partners on phased array radar for several decades. Over the course of the most recent decade, we’ve worked with large primes specifically to help drive out cost by leveraging the technologies and approaches we use on the commercial side of our business. A&D is slow moving but we’re really starting to make big strides here.
With GaN, our approach is differentiated in cost through the use of Si substrates vs SiC. This technology is unique and proprietary to us and will enable us to reach GaN performance at a cost structure less than GaAs. Our competitors say it’s not possible. That’s okay. Let them keep buying or growing SiC. In any case, they really don’t have a choice.
These three areas will continue to be front and center for us through 2017.