Since Intel acquired Infineon’s wireless arm, there have been severely limited options for handset makers looking for third party suppliers of multiband RF transceiver chips. Maxim, the analog and mixed-signal chip vendor, has spotted the gap in the market, and last month it acquired a start-up in the field, the UK’s GenASIC to broaden its RF portfolio.
As Will Strauss of semiconductor analyst firm Forward Concepts points out, many major baseband suppliers have their own LTE RF transceivers, Qualcomm and ST-Ericsson among them, as well as smaller 4G specialists like Altair. And they can turn to independents like Lime Microsystems or Fujitsu for LTE transceivers ‘ but the choice narrows when it comes to multimode LTE/3G, which is GenASIC’s competitive edge.
Strauss comments in his client newsletter: ‘Multiband 3G/LTE transceivers are very difficult to design. Several companies have tried and failed, including Sequoia Semiconductor and BitWave Semiconductor, and likely others.’ Swiss firm Advanced Circuit Pursuit (ACP) has such a product, and also licences its IP to ST-Ericsson, but GenASIC was targeting a wider base since it was founded in 2009.
The acquisition takes Maxim, a major in the lower reaches of the RF transceiver space, into higher value sectors, now it has GenASIC’s first commercial chip, a 65nm CMOS transceiver for HSPA and LTE, the GEN4100. This supports full MIMO smart antenna arrays at both transmit and receive ends plus sufficiently low power consumption to suit handset, dongles and femtocells.
The IC operates from 680MHz to 2.7GHz, with channel bandwidths programmable between 1.4MHz and 20MHz. This puts it in the increasingly important space for flexible, programmable transceivers which can cope with the diverse range of bands supported by LTE roll-outs, along with Lime, Aviacomm and other innovators.
The start-up was founded by its CEO, Ashok Dhuna, formerly VP of RF engineering at 4G baseband firm Sequans and CTO/founder of WLan firm Synad Technologies, which was sold to STMicro in 2003.