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Competitive Landscape for CDMA Power Amps

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Competitive Landscape for CDMA Power Amps – February 7, 2005

We interviewed engineers at several reputable power amplifier (amp) companies and present here a brief summary of what we learned.

 

The market for cellular handset power amps is both the largest and most competitive segment of the power amp business. CDMA is the second largest segment of the cellular handset market. In this paper, we look at the CDMA power amp offerings available today.

 

The market for CDMA cellular power amps is a little less competitive than GSM power amps, but more competetive than wireless LAN power amps (see the GSM and 802.11b/g/a white papers). Prices and margins are constantly eroding. Complete modules with integrated passives sell for well under $1.05-$1.10. Unlike the wireless LAN power amp case, and similarly to the GSM case, however, the efficiency of the cell phone power amp does matter in battery life. CDMA handsets transmit almost as much data as they receive. For example, if we consider average cell phone users, they talk as much as they listen. The difference between CDMA handsets and GSM is that CDMA baseband processing (the signal processing required to extract or generate the signal) is significantly higher than GSM, and so the percentage of power consumed by the CDMA power amp is much less, as a percentage, than in the GSM case.

 

Therefore, cell phone power amp manufacturers have already invested a great deal to increase the efficiency of their products. Existing CDMA power amps that are shipping in volume today, have typical efficiencies of about 38-40%, and can reach as high as 46%.

 

Similarly to GSM and wireless LAN power amp modules, the packaging costs of a CDMA cell phone power amp module is comparable to the die cost, while the “packaging-plus-test” costs exceed the die cost. This means that the overall cell phone power amp manufacturing costs also cannot be reduced by simply reducing the die size (and hence cost). Moreover, the industry already uses very tiny die sizes for wireless power amplifier products, mostly in the range of 1 mm2 to 1.5 mm2. Huge numbers of die per wafer are already being produced, so there is minor advantage to be found through further miniaturization.

 

It takes about 1.5 to 2 years for an established cell phone power amp company that has an existing and productive working relationship with a cell phone handset maker to transition a new idea from the first laboratory demonstration to a design that can be manufactured in high volume. Handset makers are very conservative and prefer using approved and well-tested designs. For a handset maker, a recall of millions of cell phones caused by a minor defect in the power amp (a 70 cent component) is a disaster scenario to be avoided at all costs.

 

The prevalent attitudes are:  · If it’s not broken, why fix it?  · If it doesn’t affect our costs, then why take any risks?

 

The conservatism in the cell phone industry makes it difficult for power amp startups to get in the door to have their new designs tested and evaluated. The dire consequences of component failure make it even more difficult for power amp startups to qualify their products with key, high volume customers. Typically, starts take much longer to achieve high volume sales, owing to their lack of credibility and young track records.

 

In addition, the economics of volume manufacturing heavily favor the established players. Power amp startups and new players pay large premiums for wafers, packaging, and testing. Initially, they also buy in smaller volumes, which can further exacerbate the cost problem. Unless a new entrant to the market has at least a 2X inherent cost advantage to offset the inevitable manufacturing disadvantages, he/she doesn’t have a fighting chance.

 

Note that this commentary comes directly from discussions with people from well-established power amp companies, and from someone who has started a power amp company – interestingly enough, all parties said the same thing. The links below lead to companies that are active in the wireless power amplifier market. We present examples of part numbers, typical performance (specifically efficiency), and data sheets. Note that nearly all of the products here have been available for a year or more. No future products are included in this list.

 

Relevant Links: Maxim has a 37% (MAX2291) efficiency CDMA power amp. http://para.maxim-ic.com/compare_noj.asp?Fam=rf_pwr_amp&Tree=Wireless&HP=Wireless.cfm&ln=

 

http://www.commsdesign.com/design_corner/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=22101836

 

Fairchild has a 38% (MAX2291) efficiency CDMA power amp. http://www.fairchildsemi.com/whats_new/rmpa0959_nph.html

 

Sony has a 42% (CXG1103K) efficiency CDMA power amp. http://www.sony.net/Products/SC-HP/cx_news/vol24/pdf/g1108.pdf

 

Agilent has a 40% (ACPM-7813 and ACPM-7833) and a 46% (ACPM-7881) efficiency CDMA power amp.
http://www.commsdesign.com/new_products/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=16501166

 

 

SiGe Semiconductor has a 41% (SE5103L, SE5106L, and SE5107L) efficiency CDMA power amp.
http://www.analogzone.com/hfp_0412.htm

 

RF Micro Devices has a 38% (RF2152) efficiency CDMA power amp. http://www.rfmd.com/databooks/db97/TA0032.pdf

 

EiC Corporation has a 43% (ECM060) efficiency CDMA power amp. http://www.wsdmag.com/Articles/Index.cfm?ArticleID=6816 (see 'Fremont, California')

 

Micro Semi has a 41% (?)efficiency CDMA power amp. http://www.microsemi.com/micnotes/709.pdf

 

TriQuint has a 41% (TQM713019) efficiency CDMA power amp. http://www.triquint.com/company/divisions/wireless/docs/TQM713019/TQM713019.pdf

 

Very good overview papers on RF Cellphone power amps.

 

http://www.freescale.com/files/technology_manufacturing/doc/GAASMANTECH2003_CW.pdf

 

http://www.freescale.com/files/technology_manufacturing/doc/IEEE_RFIC_2002_CW.pdf

 

Conclusion CDMA power amp efficiencies are lower than GSM (around 40% vs around 55%). Many companies have new designs in process, and we were told that efficiencies above 50% will be achieved by next year. There is no possible way for ParkerVision to achieve 2-4 times these efficiencies, because ParkerVision would have to be more than 100% efficient – an obvious impossibility.