Roger Hall, General Manager, High Performance Solutions Group, Qorvo
MPD: The 2019 defense budget is chock full of EW, radar, and other programs with lots of RF and microwave content, so, if your company serves the defense market, what are your thoughts about how this will affect your business in the coming years?
Qorvo has a long history of serving defense and government markets. In 1998, we began developing wide bandgap semiconductor (WBGS) materials for reliable high-power, high-frequency technology. This was done in partnership with defense primes, SBIRs and labs, as part of the DARPA WBGS Phase II and III programs. These foundry relationships continue today. GaN technology is still evolving, with ever-increasing power density, reliability, gain and smaller size. GaN is enabling higher and higher frequencies in more complex applications, such as phased arrays.
I believe the next phase in this area is about scale to meet the demand for the technology. We are at the intersection of GaN and mmWave with AESA radar, MIMO and now, 5G, which are all driving to higher volume production. Interestingly, the GaN technology that matured under an industry-government partnership model is now a market shaper for commercial 5G networks.
MPD: 5G is already generating revenue for some sectors of the RF and microwave industry, and this should increase next year. How do you think the implementation of 5G will affect business in the coming year?
5G is all about increased capacity, lower latency and increased robustness, which is supported by higher bandwidth and higher frequencies, making it a natural fit for leveraging the capabilities of GaN-on-SiC and mmWave technologies. 5G is ramping, but there are still unknowns in many countries. There have been deployments and field trials, which will support volume ramp in 2019, but for mmWave it is still several years away. Technology development itself is important, but I believe that the right technology needs to be deployed for the right customer needs. Qorvo supports all products, and we are working with customers on their optimum solutions, which are likely to be a mix of technologies. Size, efficiency and power will drive the solution. The greater the efficiency, the higher the transmitted power or the lower the operational costs — this is what GaN brings to the table. The defense market has already worked through this, but scale and price in the commercial markets still need to be determined.
MPD: Overall, how would you compare the health of the industry compared with years past?
The health of the industry is very solid, and we are at an inflection point from low-medium to high volumes, gained by leveraging research investments made by DARPA and defense customers. The good news is that the technology is ready; we just need to scale it to commercial levels. Defense customers will benefit from commercial volumes, so it’s a symbiotic relationship. They want to see how commercial customers creatively implement the technology. Right now, mmWave will be used in fixed access and we are starting to see applications for high-bandwidth streaming in consumer vehicles.
MPD: What RF and microwave technologies will be driving the industry in 2019?
The base station and mobile industries are being driven by the demand for more and more data. Network manufacturers are estimating that the data traffic generated by smartphones will increase 10x by 2022.* This quest for ever-more bandwidth requires mmWave technology. The higher frequencies enable wider bandwidth, so higher data requirements can be met. I believe there will be continued focus on GaN technology, as it has become the solution of choice for many critical defense applications that have the same requirements as commercial. The integration of BAW and SAW filter technology is also essential to solving the challenges posed by more complex smartphones and mobile devices in a new era of mobile technology.
*Ericsson.com, Mobility Report/Future Mobile Data Usage and Traffic Growth