From The Editor | April 14, 2014

Why Is Apple Stockpiling RF Engineers?

By Clinton Shaffer

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Paul Chang, former principal engineer, project manager, and RF chip lead at Broadcom, recently migrated to Apple, further substantiating rumors that Apple plans on designing and building baseband processors in-house.

A recent update to Chang’s LinkedIn profile confirmed the move. According to the profile, Chang worked at Broadcom for over 11 years, helping develop a “series of cellular mobile communications CMOS semiconductor products,” including a number of 65 nm quadband single -chip transceivers. Notably, two of the transceivers that Chang helped develop, the BCM21331 and the BCM21251, were used in Samsung and Nokia handsets, respectively. 

Chang was not the first RF engineer from Broadcom to join Apple, and he may not be the last.

According to an article from DigiTimes that cited industry sources, Apple plans on assembling an internal RF R&D team to develop baseband processors for the 2015 iPhones.

A recent appleinsider article corroborates those claims, reporting that over the past three years Apple has acquired approximately 30 mid- and senior-level baseband software and hardware engineers from both Broadcom and Qualcomm.

Xiping Wang, another upper-echelon hardware engineer from Broadcom, was among those acquisitions. Wang left for Apple in January after working at Broadcom for over 10 years, initially as a principal design engineer, and, subsequently, as a manager of hardware development engineering.

Apple also has a laundry list of job openings — more than 50 altogether — affiliated with RF design and development, indicating that Apple is still actively assembling a team for in-house baseband development.

Apple’s recent talent acquisitions and the company’s exhaustive list of job openings coincide with other efforts made by the company to establish greater autonomy in the design and manufacturing of its products.

Late last year, for instance, Apple signed a multi-year, $578 million deal with GT Advanced Technologies, which entailed opening a facility in Arizona to produce sapphire material for Apple devices. The material is used in camera lenses and in the protective disks on the home button of the iPhone 5s.

So far, there have not been any large-scale deals made to support the broadband project — like the $399 million acquisitions of P.A. Semi and Intrinsity that helped support Apple’s A-series application processors — but, hiring seasoned RF engineers is a definite step towards in-house development.  

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