Inside Track with Paul Hart, Senior Vice President and General Manager, RF Power Business, NXP Semiconductors

May 27, 2016
MW&RF talks with NXP's Paul Hart about the company's integration with Freescale, the issues surrounding 5G, and the latest trends making an impact on NXP's products.
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Paul Hart, NXP Semiconductors

Paul Hart is Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Radio Frequency business at NXP. He is responsible for maximizing NXP’s leadership position in RF Power and identifying new market opportunities to drive growth. We talked with him about the latest at NXP:

MW&RF: All of a sudden we’re hearing a lot about 5G, even though it’s probably five or six years away. Is NXP already concentrating on meeting the demands of this next generation of wireless?

PH: Well, because 5G standards aren’t likely to become formal until 2019, you might think we have lots of time, which is far from reality. The reason is that 5G is unique in comparison to its predecessors, as it’s the most comprehensive change in wireless communication since cellular’s inception. So while 5G is still some way off in terms of deployment, we have been working for several years to address its immense challenges for RF power devices and power amplifiers.

MW&RF: Tell us a bit about why this is the case.

PH: The scope of 5G is truly immense and incredibly ambitious. In addition to increasing data rates to at least 1 Gb/s, it changes the way networks are designed and built from their current focus on hardware to software-defined and virtually orchestrated and dynamically controlled. It also expands operating frequencies from their current limit of about 3 GHz through the millimeter-wave region up to 60 GHz, and requires signal bandwidths of hundreds of megahertz.

Also, 5G effectively aggregates all of the wireless standards competing for supremacy in the IoT arena, providing an umbrella of sorts based on cellular communications. Hopefully, this will fully address the needs of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications—IoT—that will finally allow it to achieve its full potential.

And last, but surely not least, is the need to decrease round-trip latency from its current 50 ms or so in 4G to 1 ms or less, which basically pits it against the laws of physics. But such performance will be essential in order to enable autonomous vehicles, next-generation robotics, high-end gaming, augmented and virtual reality, telesurgery, and other applications requiring near-instantaneous response times. Any one of these changes alone would put 5G in a class by itself. Collectively, they’re essentially a wholesale revision of wireless communications in general.

MW&RF: Can you provide some details as they relate to RF power and RF in general?

PH: Every succeeding wireless generation has placed greater and greater demands on designers of RF power devices and amplifiers, and 5G takes this to a whole new level. Take signal bandwidth. Expectations are 5G will have theoretical maximum download data rates of at least 1 Gb/s, which requires a huge increase in signal bandwidth, potentially as high as 400 MHz. This cannot be achieved without advances from the die level through packaging and amplifier architecture, while simultaneously increasing efficiency and other metrics.

Higher frequencies—especially 60 GHz—have characteristics that make them useful only over short distances. They also are limited in terms of RF power levels, will require lots of new infrastructure, and demand truly massive MIMO in order to achieve very low latencies. It will be absolutely essential to reduce the size, weight, power consumption, and cost of small cells through increasingly high levels of integration.

MW&RF: Since the new company was formed, has the integration of Freescale’s RF and microwave products within NXP been fairly smooth?

PH: Yes it has, especially considering the breadth of the two companies’ product lines. The reason is that the technologies represented are largely complementary. For example, the RF Power business (for which I’m responsible) targets applications requiring higher power levels than those required in battery-powered devices. Our technologies in the RF Power business are LDMOS transistors and RFICs and GaN transistors. However, other business lines focused on applications like millimeter-wave vehicle radar that rely on SiGe. So there’s a pretty clear delineation between technologies and the applications they serve.

MW&RF: Will NXP continue to pursue the defense sector?

PH: Since we first entered the defense marketplace in 2013, our products have been enthusiastically received by prime and subprime contractors—especially in the areas of L-band radar and IFF with our LDMOS and GaN transistors. We’ve just expanded our LDMOS line for defense, including an RF power transistor for L-band applications that delivers very high output. We’ve also introduced new GaN devices.

MW&RF: After using vacuum tubes for decades, the industrial market finally seems to be embracing solid-state devices. Is this a significant sector for NXP?

PH: Absolutely. There are a remarkable number of applications in which RF is used for heating, welding, sealing, etching, lighting, lasers, and, of course, in MRI and other medical equipment. LDMOS in particular offers many advantages when compared to magnetrons and other “legacy” devices as well as bipolars and MOSFETs, so we’re actively involved in helping manufacturers make the transition from older technologies to LDMOS.

MW&RF: Land-mobile and public-safety communications has been a mainstay at Freescale for decades. I assume this will continue to be a primary focus now at NXP?

PH: The land-mobile radio market is one of the most important to us, as it was for Freescale and for Motorola before that. This sector is undergoing considerable changes so we’re ensuring that OEMs have the devices they need to accommodate them.

MW&RF: I saved RF cooking for last, as it’s so much different than your traditional markets, and potentially lucrative as well.

PH: The real story here is not just transitioning from magnetrons to solid-state devices for the generation of RF power, but creating an entirely new appliance with capabilities that no other cooking technology can achieve. At the same time, it takes people out of the control loop in the cooking process.

For example, the infinitely variable output power of LDMOS RF power transistors along with beamforming and other techniques allow nutrients and moisture content to be much better preserved. Because the entire cooking process is performed autonomously, you will no longer need to periodically peek into the oven to make sure the food is being properly cooked. It also offers the possibility of cooking different types of food at the same time.

MW&RF: What are the challenges in developing this market?

PH: Building a microwave oven is well understood by appliance manufacturers, but creating a solid-state RF cooking appliance is not. So our goal is to provide the tools that allow them to speed this type of product to market. For companies with RF expertise, we can provide the LDMOS RF power transistors, reference designs, and other tools. For others, we can provide a cooking module that includes the RF power source and its power supply, as well as computational and signal-processing hardware and control software.

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