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ITEQ Corporation Executive VP and CTO Tarun Amla discusses effects of 5G on materials and shares general observations on the 5G rollout at DesignCon.
Andy Shaughnessy: Can you tell us about what brings you to DesignCon this year?
Tarun Amla: I’ve been coming here for a long time primarily because it’s where you get a flavor for what’s happening and what’s going to be happening over the next three to five years or even longer. I’m here to talk to customers, check in with them, and see what’s going on. It also helps me with road mapping in terms of planning for products of the future.
Shaughnessy: What are some of the challenges that you’re seeing for your company? And what are some of the problems your customers come to you with?
Amla: The biggest issue right now is that there is this inflection point on the RF microwave side. The 5G rollout is supposed to happen over the next 36−48 months. It’s going to be an evolutionary process, initially starting with sub-6 GHz and some millimeter wave bands. There are a lot of unanswered questions, and our customers want to know what is required. For instance, how do you characterize the materials for the millimeter and centimeter wave frequencies, what materials are available and will be suitable for that space, and what type of manufacturing technology will be used? The shift toward higher layer count, mixed RF, and digital boards with high-density interconnects is continuing. There’s a little bit of confusion out there that is going to sort itself out over the next few months, once people realize what’s going on and things become more clearly defined.
Take frequency bands, for example. It’s not clearly defined as to what they’re going to be, and that’s one key challenge our customers are facing. While the RF side will see growth due to 5G, most OEMs on the high speed digital side are concerned about the immediate hurdle of jumping to and beyond 112 Gbps per channel. Everyone wants a solution to the “material” side of the problem. ITEQ has been diligent in coming up with solutions to these challenges.
Shaughnessy: Are you seeing a lot of demand for 5G stuff?
Amla: Yes, the rollout of some sub-6 GHz and millimeter wave bands has started. The boards that are being built are not revolutionary; they’re just an evolution on the existing technology. Incorporating massive MIMO antennas with smart beam-forming capability into circuit design is the main challenge. Increasing layer count, higher thermal loads, stability of materials are some of the main challenges. And on the digital backhaul side, there’s a lot of growth there. We are also seeing good growth with the sub-6 GHz out on remote radio units.
Shaughnessy: Are you seeing any shortages of the raw materials affecting your lead times?
Amla: As the millimeter wave 5G material sets have not been completely defined, there is some time for things to settle in. However, there have been some shortages with low DK glass and ultra-low profile copper, which, though not directly related to 5G, do have some bearing. Regarding 5G material sets, ITEQ did some planning and has most of the raw materials in-house to ensure our customers don’t have to suffer.
Shaughnessy: That’s good. You’re based mainly in Asia, so you see a pretty good slice of the industry. Where do you think the industry is going, and what do you see for the next few years?
Amla: There is a little bit of disenchantment with regular high layer-count boards, and people want to go into higher value products. Customers are anticipating 5G to be a relief from the kind of work they’re doing with higher value added to the boards. With new technologies coming out, building RF boards is going to be different. There will be higher layer count boards even for consumer-premises antenna and small base stations. High-density interconnects will be required to help with routing and that’s not the domain of expertise for the existing RF board suppliers. We’ll see a shift, and that’s why the bigger and more capable shops are trying to develop a capability for building RF boards, which were considered a specialty in the past. We’re also seeing a general trend toward getting more capability in-house to test for reliability and signal integrity. There has been a huge change in Asia from the standpoint of capability, investment, and the grand spectrum of products that they can do.
Shaughnessy: Thanks for your time.
Amla: Thank you.