PARTNER INTERVIEW: The relentless march towards new and emerging technologies goes hand-in-hand with rising complexity for RF technology providers like US-headquartered Qorvo. Eric Creviston (pictured, below), president of the company’s Mobile Products Group, details how the company is meeting the challenges of evolving mobile standards, IoT and M2M, and growing consumption of mobile data.
What key trends are you seeing in the smartphone space, and how is Qorvo addressing them?
Demand for mobile data is driving the smartphone space and the RF industry in particular. Even though we’ve made a lot of progress within 4G there’s still a long way to go in what we call the race to 1Gb/s.
Carriers around the world are adding a lot of new frequency bands as they are allocated more spectrum, and many of these bands are being combined to support multi-carrier operation. It means a handset today – a smartphone in particular – operates on multiple carrier frequencies at the same time.
Multiple input/multiple output, or MIMO, also allows simultaneous data streams to the handset. These trends create a lot of RF complexity.
The next few years will see even more bands, more complexity and higher orders of modulation – all fantastically hard RF problems which we believe Qorvo is uniquely positioned to help solve.
An RF industry paradox is that the increase in RF complexity and phenomenal increase in what we’re enabling in the handset isn’t matched by more space. Consumers want more battery life, and the batteries take up a lot of room. There is also a lot of memory, sensors and other features going in handsets that take up precious real estate. It’s a real challenge to continue enabling all this mobile data in roughly the same amount of space within the handset. The integration of RF components and advanced packaging techniques will allow this to continue.
What is Qorvo’s strategy for growing the Mobile Products Business?
Qorvo is unique in that we have each of the core enabling technologies necessary and have been with the industry during transitions from analogue to 2G, 3G, 4G, and we’re also helping to define 5G.
We participate with the standards bodies, carriers, our customers and their customers. We also develop hardware, conduct tests, share data and help define what’s possible.
We can also tap into the work of our Infrastructure and Defence Products (IDP) business, where we’re a leader in millimetre Wave (mmWave) applications and have a full suite of power amplifiers, low noise amplifiers and all the critical enabling aspects currently used in mmWave defence applications.
Multi-carrier operation (carrier aggregation) and forthcoming MIMO advanced modulation schemes are really tough RF problems, and solving them in a space- and power-efficient way that allows vendors to quickly ramp handsets is difficult.
Qorvo’s belief is if we can help our customers get handsets to market faster, we’ll help them succeed by satisfying consumer demand. So our strategy is based on leveraging a core set of RF technologies and our extensive experience to develop and bring to market our solution set. We want to bring answers to our customers’ questions, often before they get a chance to ask them. Also, we believe that staying close to carriers on one end of the spectrum, no pun intended, and consumer expectations in handset aesthetics and data demand on the other are critical in today’s rapidly-evolving mobile communication markets.
As we look at expanding our presence across the mobile devices space, we also aim to take our mature RF technologies and leverage those into emerging applications including M2M and IoT, which are different because they don’t need a lot of data, but must have extremely long battery life.
What key RF technology elements does Qorvo see evolving over the next few years and why?
Qorvo believes a key challenge in RF is to put the pieces together to support rapid adoption of new applications. It gets even more challenging whenever you put a lot of elements together in one device covering different frequency bands, because of the need to prevent interference with adjacent bands.
As you do that over a wide range of frequencies there’s a lot of switching that happens throughout the RF front end, which increases the loss and so impacts power amplification, requiring even more sophisticated power management.
The fundamental driver is how to get more data through this and deliver 1Gb/s – challenges which are driving multi-carrier operation and MIMO, which drive the need for more advanced filters, superior switching and tuning, and advanced RF power management.
Our customers can no longer develop a separate handset for each region. Today they need devices that cover as many regions as possible – a tremendous challenge since each region has a unique combination of frequency bands. We have deep expertise in power management, acoustic filtering and switching/tuning. As we market our broad portfolio of RF solutions, we continue to leverage these competencies to bring integrated modules to market that have all these components in one package. So that helps a customer looking to launch a global or regional handset bring their product to market quickly.
There’s also a lot of attention paid to battery technologies and their effect on the handset. The impact of heat when using your handset in high data mode is going to become really important. The ability to transmit and receive data very efficiently cuts power consumption and helps keep the device running cooler.
What is Qorvo’s approach to the challenges of 5G?
5G is still not fully defined. However, there is clearly a need for higher mobile data throughput for consumers: in 4G it’s a race to 1Gb/s; in 5G it will be 10Gb/s.
However, it’s not just higher data rates. There are also massive machine type initiatives, which pose a very different challenge in trying to extend battery life and coverage area, and also high reliability low latency initiatives covering applications such as autonomous driving.
For Qorvo, defining what’s possible is a big part of our 5G strategy. We’re actively involved with 3GPP as a voting delegate. We’re also a member of the GTI and a member of China Mobile’s 5G Innovation Centre. We’re working closely with the industry to help define what can be done and, in a lot of cases, we’re developing actual hardware specific to certain use cases and using data to help show how the industry can evolve.
I think the mmWave work will not be truly mobile in the early days of 5G. Instead it will be fixed/wireless transmission at very high data rates, but we are working with several mobile customers to define whether it’s practical to put mmWave operation on a truly mobile device.
What are the key drivers for the RF industry in the next three years?
Mobile data is king, and delivering better and faster mobile data is enabling all kinds of new applications and markets for our customers and their customers. So the fundamental driver is delivering mobile data.
That, in turn, drives an increasing number of frequency bands which the products have to operate over, and we just see this trend continuing well into the 5G rollout.
We’ll see the RF industry go from content growth within the high-data-rate space to unit growth driving the lower-data-rate space. These will add a new phase of growth for the RF industry.
It’s an exciting time to be part of the RF industry, and for Qorvo in particular.