The development of active antenna systems for urban coverage, for both LTE and 5G equipment, can be seen as the main game changer in the telecom infrastructure radio frequency (RF) component industry over the past few years as explained in the Yole Développement report 5G’s Impact on RF Front-End for Telecom Infrastructure 2021. As a result, these systems had a change in the number of RF chains and their power level. With active antennas, up to 64 independent RF lines are used, with power levels down to 5W and below. This has drastically changed bills of material as the need for pre-final stage amplification components such as gain blocks, pre-drivers, switches and so on and general amplification has been multiplied by a factor of 16 in some cases. This modern approach is being addressed by multiple RF component manufacturers through distinct innovative approaches, generating additional revenues and stimulating innovation. The telecom infrastructure RF market today is estimated by Yole as worth $2.7B in 2020. We forecast that it will exceed $4.2B in 2023, before going down to $3.6B in 2025.
In this context, Antoine Bonnabel, Technology & Market Analyst, RF devices and technology at Yole Développement, has interviewed Eric Westberg, Director of Product Management for NXP’s Integrated Power Solutions, one of the innovative players in the RF front-end field.
Antoine Bonnabel (AB): Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Eric Westberg (EW): Hello, my name is Eric Westberg. I’m the Director of Product Management for NXP’s Integrated Power Solutions. Our goal is to accelerate 5G deployments around the globe by delivering industry leading RF power amplifier solutions. We’re excited to be announcing a new generation of products that integrate GaN technology into 5G multi-chip modules for the infrastructure market.
AB: NXP is enlarging its product portfolio for 4G/5G high power radios. Could you update us on the product mix NXP is now offering, specifically for final stage power amplifiers?
EW: NXP enables the diversification of 5G radio access networks with a full portfolio of complimentary products and technologies. Our discrete and multi-chip-module power amplifiers serve all 5G configurations, across all power levels and frequencies addressing the rapidly evolving 5G deployments. NXP addressed the early 5G deployments with LDMOS modules, offering solutions up to 4.0 GHz. Future 5G deployments required improved performance, higher frequencies and greater instantaneous bandwidth (IBW) in some cases. To address this shift, NXP positioned itself strategically to support new 5G requirements by utilizing our GaN on SiC fab for new module solutions. To complete our technology toolbox, we also offer SiGe-based solutions addressing millimeter-wavelength (mmWave) and Sub-6 GHz applications.
AB: What are the other RF components on which NXP is positioning itself?
EW: At NXP, a key component of our success is the enablement that goes along with our products. We traditionally offer reference circuits that enable customers to test our parts and get their needed performance. We wanted to take that a step further and recently launched a series of compact RF front-end reference boards for 5G Massive Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) radios. These RapidRF reference boards integrate a linear pre-driver, RF power amplifier, receive (RX) Low Noise Amplifier (LNA) with Transmit/Receive (T/R) switch, a circulator and a bias controller in a compact footprint. By integrating all RF front-end functions in a single, turnkey board design, RapidRF solutions enable RF designers to accelerate the entire development process, from prototyping and design to the release of leading-edge 5G systems.
AB: Looking at 5G roll out, massive MIMO radios are drawing a lot of interest due to the large capacity they offer. But they also drive a higher architectural complexity. Can you please explain NXP’s proposition to address some of the specific challenges linked to massive MIMO?
EW: Yes, with greater capacity comes higher architectural complexity, but with NXP multi-chip modules we absorb much of that complexity. NXP has invested heavily in module solutions that help drive the overall system complexity down. Our modules offer integration that can reduce component count, power amplifier (PA) size, board complexity while still meeting stringent performance requirements. As previously mentioned, our new RapidRF front-end series of reference boards offer a new level of readiness that removes the complexity of RF design so that our customers can focus on their core added value.
AB: Could you explain what is driving the demand for integrated modules on massive MIMO (mMIMO) radios, as well as NXP’s module approach in general for this application?
EW: NXP’s module portfolio was designed specifically to ease our complexity of designing mMIMO radios for our end customers. These modules are 50 ohm in and 50 ohm out, which helps limit the needs for on board tuning and therefore decrease the overall size and weight of their mMIMO radios. They are also pin-to-pin compatible within portfolios to support faster time to market between frequency derivative radios.
AB: Technology wise, NXP works on LDMOS, GaN and SiGe. Could you explain the main reasons for choosing one technology over another at NXP’s level?
EW: 5G is a diverse and complimentary network ecosystem addressing dense urban areas to rural regions. This ecosystem requires various frequencies, power levels, and other performance targets to address all architectures. NXP is well positioned with a full technology toolbox to support all of these requirements. Each technology brings in its own benefits that can be utilized depending on the customers’ needs.
AB: Could you explain NXP’s GaN technology differentiation?
EW: NXP’s RF GaN technology has been developed to explicitly address the needs of 5G cellular infrastructure radios. More specifically, it is optimized to deliver industry leading linearized efficiency and reduce Digital Pre-Distortion (DPD) complexity. Electron trapping is a problem inherent to RF GaN on SiC, which causes memory effects, limiting linearized performance. For pulsed applications, NXP GaN can improve pulse-to-pulse stability. NXP has re-designed the device structure and further refined the fab process to reduce memory effects.
AB: NXP opened its GaN 6” fab almost one year ago. Could you comment on how operations are going in the fab?
EW: There was a lot of excitement centered around the opening of our new GaN on SiC fab in Chandler, Arizona, in 2020. Over the last year we have expanded our portfolio with new GaN solutions addressing 5G active antenna applications and new products for high power macro cellular infrastructure. We are looking forward to celebrating our one year anniversary in September and for future GaN products.
AB: Do you plan further capacity expansion over the coming years?
EW: As 5G deployments continue to expand around the globe, we are excited to be a leading provider of GaN solutions enabling this growing market. We continue to execute on our plans to grow with the market as the RF content grows in 5G infrastructure installations.
AB: mmWave rollout is ongoing in the US and other markets. Could you explain NXP positioning on this new market opportunity?
EW: As mentioned earlier, 5G is a diverse, complementary network ecosystem and mmWave is a key component of that. Along with sub-6 GHz mMIMO, mmWave solutions help address dense urban areas and work together to ensure greater capacity and reliability. With NXP SiGe technology, we offer products that meet the frequency and performance requirements for all mmWave architectures. As mmWave gains traction, NXP will continue to offer new solutions to address those requirements. Within NXP’s Radio Power Business Line, we have a dedicated portfolio to support the market needs of mmWave. This NXP Radio Power team utilizes their full technology toolbox to design parts specific to the needs at the higher frequency requirements being driven by the mmWave rollouts.
Eric Westberg is the director of Product Management for NXP Semiconductors’ Integrated Power Solutions product line. In this role he leads the product direction and strategic vision for NXP’s innovative power amplifier solutions for 5G cellular infrastructure. In addition to product management he has held engineering and management positions in application engineering, systems engineering and business development in the wireless and semiconductor industries. Eric earned his master’s degree in electrical engineering from Arizona State University and undergraduate degrees from Wheaton College and the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Antoine Bonnabel works as a Technology & Market Analyst for the Power & Wireless team of Yole Développement (Yole). He carries out technical, marketing and strategic analyses focused on RF devices, related technologies and markets.
Prior to Yole, Antoine was R&D Program Manager for DelfMEMS (FR), a company specializing in RF switches and supervised Intellectual Property and Business Intelligence activities of this company. In addition, he also has co-authored several market reports and is co-inventor of three patents in RF MEMS design.
Antoine holds a M.Sc. in Microelectronics from Grenoble Institute of Technologies (France) and a M.Sc. in Management from Grenoble Graduate School of Business (France).
5G’s Impact on RF Front-End for Telecom Infrastructure 2021
The RF component market for telecom infrastructure will peak at $4.2B in 2023 thanks to active implementation of 5G.
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