In this interview with Jerry Wei, Business Manager for MAXIM's wireless RF transceivers, he explains how MAXIM were involved in the early femtocell designs and are now included in the vast majority of today's commercial femtocells. With their second generation femtocell RF transceiver nearing commercial production, he reports confident growth in today's shipments, explains why the LTE Femtocell market will be different, and believes that ODMs will have a large part to play in the future.
Can you tell us a bit about MAXIMs background in femtocells?
MAXIM is a leader in analog and mixed-signal innovation and integration – approximately $2.5billion in annual revenues and over 9,000 staff. I'm business manager for RF transceiver products within the wireless RF products division, where we believe femtocells will be a significant market for us. We were first to market with a two chip solution back in 2007/8, which ensured a healthy set of design wins. You are likely to find us in most of the top commercial deployments worldwide.
We have separate variants for UMTS and CDMA, and so are dominant in both technologies.
How confident are you about the femtocell market today?
We've seen volume shipments growing since 2010 and they continue to increase steadily today. The early projections which forecast a ramp-up into the millions today were on target, and forecasts of over ten million in 4-5 years time seem achievable.
Of course, we're not surprised there have been some issues with early femtocell deployments – this is still the first generation of the product after all. These vary from vendor to vendor and operator to operator, but in the end these minor issues will be overcome. From our own direct experience, quite a few of my colleagues have the ATT 3G Microcell and all have given very good reports of it in use. One said it transformed his use of the mobile phone inside his home, going from zero to 5 bars, so he can confidently rely on it all the time.
Other RF chipset vendors have single chip designs. How do you compete?
We announced our latest product, the MAX2550, in February. This single chip monolithic design is sampling and will go into mass product later this quarter. We've learnt a lot over recent years by working closely with our many customers, and incorporated much of their feedback and suggestions in this latest product.
Our femtocell transceiver products are specifically designed for this market. We also have in-house designers working on transceivers for larger macrocell basestations, and have been able to cross-fertilize their experience across the different teams. Lastly, we've also incorporated improvements from the latest 3GPP specifications, which optimize some of the femtocell related performance aspects too.
This has allowed us to keep ahead of the technology curve. We hope our current customers will incorporate this new part when they refresh/update their designs. In combination with other updated industry products, this will improve system performance and drive costs down further.
How do you see ODMs (Original Device Manufacturers) entering the femtocell market?
Their presence in the market has definitely been growing. At first, they operated purely as contract manufacturers but now are involved more and more in the hardware design.
This isn't unusual. If you think of any high volume electronic product which is ramping up, ODMs always play a part. They are extremely good at cost engineering and manufacturing at high volume.
It's fair to say that most femtocell software today comes from the larger or more experienced companies, with the ODMs expanding more into hardware optimization. ODMs are working hand in hand with femtocell software companies, a key partnership which benefits both.
Lastly, what's your take on LTE femtocells?
Our new chip could be used for LTE, but our main focus today is 3G. We've seen many initial LTE basestation designs appear which are not yet fully optimized for femtocells. These are really scaled down LTE macrocell designs – dedicated pico/femto baseband solutions will come out later this year.Our view is that commercial LTE femtocells are still perhaps some two years away. We can expect to see solutions for pico/enterprise first, followed later by femtocells. There isn't much immediate demand for LTE residential femtocells, so the requirement will be for macrocells first, followed by small public metro and enterprise cells.