Climbing to the Top in the MMIC Arena

Climbing to the Top in the MMIC Arena

April 10, 2019
In this Q&A, John Greichen, VP of sales and marketing at Custom MMIC, talks about his company’s focus, different strategies being implemented, and more.

Although Custom MMIC has been in existence for a relatively short amount of time, the company is now regarded as a top supplier of monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MMICs). How did the company get to where it is now?

Custom MMIC is a 13-year-old company. We started as a custom design service company in 2006, serving the advanced MMIC technology needs of military radar and communications. Our experience and design expertise provided a strong base to enable a transition into standard products about six years ago.

We focus very heavily on the needs of military, space, and instrumentation customers. Listening to their requirements has strongly driven our roadmap. Custom MMIC has rapidly grown its standard product portfolio with our talented and efficient technical team. We now cover all major functions in a typical microwave signal chain across a broad range of frequencies. Our products are considered performance leaders by our customers, and we continuously push the performance envelope.

Our current market position reflects our effective strategy to bring strong technology to our focus markets quickly with excellent quality, responsiveness, and support. Proof of our position is evidenced by supplier awards received regularly from our customers, including Raytheon, BAE, and Lockheed Martin.

The industry is obviously wrapped up in 5G. However, 5G is not exactly where Custom MMIC’s focus lies. Can you talk about the markets being targeted by the company?

Custom MMIC is laser-focused on the military, space, and instrumentation markets. We believe our GaAs/GaN technology and high-performance design capability are a perfect match for these markets. We also believe these markets are underserved by MMIC suppliers in general.


John Greichen, VP, Sales and Marketing, Custom MMIC

5G has been the perennial huge market for several years—but frankly, few are making money in 5G to date despite huge investments. Custom MMIC has the high-frequency capability to address 5G and will be looking for opportunities to bring value to 5G customers as the market develops.

Let’s say a system designer is faced with a situation in which a component that was designed into a system is now obsolete. How is Custom MMIC helping designers cope with this scenario? In addition, the company is executing an “alternate part” strategy to ensure customers that essentially the same component will be available for many years. Can you explain that?

The MMIC market has certainly seen its share of disruption in the last few years. Mergers, acquisitions, and market exits have created real problems for system designers, particularly those requiring long product life such as in military applications. Custom MMIC is helping its military and space customers cope with this reality via two specific strategies.

First, we are rapidly increasing our standard product portfolio. When the customer is faced with an obsolescence situation, they can visit our easy-to-use website and quite often find a product meeting their needs. While we certainly can’t replace all obsolete products, our company selectively addresses specific high-demand products by designing a compatible replacement. For example, Custom MMIC quickly created a cross-reference guide when Broadcom/Avago obsoleted its MMIC portfolio in late 2017. Several months later, we introduced a replacement for a particularly popular Avago MMIC.

Second, Custom MMIC began an “alternates” product manufacturing program approximately three years ago. We are often asked to assure supply of our products for 10 years or more by military and instrumentation customers. The possibility of foundry process obsolescence makes that assurance difficult. The alternates program objective is to develop a “form, fit, and function” second source for selected standard products to mitigate the risk of foundry issues. This program protects both Custom MMIC and end customers from obsolescence concerns. Custom MMIC’s military and instrumentation customers are impressed and comforted by our unique alternates program.

Custom MMIC utilizes various foundries. What are some of the benefits of taking that approach?

Custom MMIC partners with most of the GaAs and GaN foundries around the world. There are two main benefits to working with a number of different foundries. First, we can select the best process from across the various foundry options to address challenging product requirements. Our history of design service gives us a great perspective on what’s the best process to utilize for our standard product portfolio. Being fabless is considered an advantage versus owning a fab, which would present a more limited set of process options.

Second, being fabless allows us to distribute our business across several different foundry partners. This approach avoids overdependence on one or another foundry. Our alternates program as mentioned above adds another layer of risk mitigation.

Custom MMIC recently received a 5-star supplier award from Raytheon. Tell us a little about this accomplishment.

Our team was very proud to receive a 5-Star Supplier Excellence award from Raytheon Company for our 2018 performance. This is the second consecutive year we received an award from Raytheon. The award focuses on operational and quality excellence with specific expectations and measures.

Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems (IDS) Group has over 3,000 suppliers. Annually, IDS presents 3-, 4-, and 5-Star awards to approximately 5% of those suppliers. Custom MMIC was one of only nine suppliers to receive the 5-Star award in 2018 and was the only GaAs/GaN semiconductor supplier to receive an award.

We are very happy to receive this recognition and strive to maintain this high performance for Raytheon and other key customers.

Can you talk a little about what we might expect to see from the company in the future?

You can expect continuous innovation from Custom MMIC!

We introduced the first of our so-called “ultra-low-noise amplifier” (U-LNA) family in 2018. The 2- to 6-GHz CMD283C3 offers discrete-level noise-figure performance of 0.6 dB in a 3- × 3-mm QFN package, and is a matched, self-biased, single-supply MMIC. We plan to introduce more U-LNA products covering C- to Ka-band later this year.

We are working on broadband amplifiers up to 70 GHz with very flat gain performance. Coming soon are more analog attenuators, as well as expansion of our innovative coarse-/fine-control digital-step-attenuator family, with 6-bit, 0.5-dB step (fine control) and 2-bit, 10-dB step (coarse control) versions.

Custom MMIC will be adding to its high-input-power-handling GaN LNA portfolio, plus will introduce more linear and efficient GaN power amplifiers. Keep your eye out for new MMIC functions in GaN later in 2019!

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