By Ed Biller
Recently, RF Globalnet was fortunate enough to conduct a Q&A with Anthony Fischetti, VP and Chief Architect of the Lightwave Antenna Business Unit at MACOM. Fischetti, who spent 33 years — across various roles — at Northrop Grumman, opened up about MACOM’s role in 5G development, as well as his own career path.
1.) At IMS 2018’s 5G Summit, MACOM hosted the presentation GaN-on-Silicon Transcendent – Enabling The Cost, Integration, and Affordability Challenges to Make 5G a Reality. You also touched on this in an article last year, but could you further discuss some of the general challenges faced by the industry in pursuit of 5G?
Deploying 5G networks requires breakthroughs in energy efficiency, superior quality of service, and increased subscriber coverage. Meeting these stringent requirements, while delivering a reliable solution at commercially viable cost structures, demands true innovation. To date, critical challenges remain, including:
- Cost structures are not yet affordable for mainstream deployments
- Supply chains for key technologies are not robust across the industry
- Quality of service goals are constrained by the performance of traditional RF technologies
- Form factor and associated thermal constraints inhibit the move to advanced beamforming architectures
2.) Related, which of these challenges is MACOM best positioned to address, and how so?
MACOM is poised to play a leading role in the deployment of 5G wireless and optical networks with products that range from RF to light. Our leadership in RF & microwave and optical products enables breakthroughs in network capacity, latency, coverage, and quality of service by providing a wide range of products spanning RF power transistors, MMICs, switches, power amplifiers, lasers, amplifier PHYs, and integrated modules that allow us to implement advanced beam forming that is energy efficient and available at commercially viable cost structures at scaled volume production levels.
3.) The RF/microwave and optics/photonics industries are increasingly intermixed today – for example, to optimize sensing and create safety redundancy in autonomous vehicles. This also is evidenced in MACOM’s Lightwave solutions. Building upon your comments from an article earlier this year, how do you envision these technologies being utilized/combined in the future — to serve industry needs, in general, as well as specifically pertaining to MACOM’s Lightwave Antenna unit?
MACOM is vertically integrated across multiple technology areas and committed to enabling our customers with RF to light solutions. Today we’re taking our technologies, both RF and optical, and enabling subsystem solutions that will bring more integration and higher levels of affordability into subsystem designs. As antennas and radar networks evolve to accommodate more and more data, line speeds for fronthaul and backhaul are pushing to 100G optical speeds and beyond. Simply put, with an integrated Tile-based architecture, the data transmitted and received increases by integer multiples, and you can’t deploy the antenna if you can’t get the data to and from the remote radio head. This is where the marriage of RF and optical are the perfect fit.
Over the last decade, MACOM has developed a planar phased array Tile for S-band, assembled in a printed circuit board style, which drives down cost by removing connectors and the complexity of cable harnesses. We’ve since expanded that design into other frequency bands, with the same level of manufacture and high-level integration intact.
Our Tiles are a very attractive low-cost solution to the base station industry as they look to deploy millions of 5G base stations in the near future. Further, taking that concept of low-cost phased arrays into the aerospace & defense world is key to bringing more surveillance and defense capability in an affordable range. And finally, leveraging our data center experience allows us to build a fabric platform behind the array which can move this data seamlessly, with optical transport right from the Tile.
4.) You spent 30+ years at Northrop Grumman – what prompted your move to MACOM, and how has your experience at Northrop Grumman aided you in performing your roles at MACOM?
My career at Northrop Grumman was long and very fulfilling. My goal and that of MACOM is to always bring affordability and scalability to help continue to keep our warfighters and civilians safe. I feel very passionate about taking my prior experience to the technology and component level. This is where MACOM is a leader, and this is where I felt there was no place better to take the commercial cost efficiencies and economies of scale and bring them back into the A&D world.
5.) Tell us a little bit about SPAR™ Tiles – MACOM’s site claims they (or similar Tile systems) will bring RADAR systems from the past into the future, in terms of operational capability, efficiency, and cost savings. Was this idea born of your radar experience at Northrop Grumman?
MACOM has a deep history going back a decade with the conception, design, and deployment of Scalable Planar Array (SPAR) Tiles. The evolution of the SPAR Tile resulted from a very collaborative relationship between MACOM and MIT Lincoln Labs, which has helped to develop this affordable active array technology.
For our customers – this family of products delivers a modular, scalable RF building block to accelerate their time to market for emerging active antenna Applications. In many cases, major OEMs have come to realize that their value is derived from the system —not from RF sub-assemblies.
For MACOM, SPAR Tiles are highly integrated products consisting of complex printed circuit boards populated with MMIC-based modules. SPAR Tiles utilize and combine the full array of our technologies into a single product type. SPAR Tiles combine MACOM’s broad range of unique technologies, like GaN-on-Silicon, HMIC and AlGaAs diodes, into sub-system which are, frankly, outside of the core focus and capability of many of our peers. For MACOM, this sub-system builds upon our decades of module and higher-level assembly experience and is well within our comfort zone. This RF technology, coupled with our optical and Lightwave technologies, is bringing a much more capable digital active antenna array to the market.
6.) Continuing education is a must in our industry, and it’s quite apparent you’re not lacking in this department. How did you identify programs that would both utilize and enhance your talents, as well as maximize your career potential?
Over my 33 years with Northrop Grumman, starting as an engineer and working my way to business area director, I always kept in very close touch with technical innovation, and specifically technical innovation as it relates to active array technology. Starting early in my career with the JSTARs program and working my way up into advanced radar programs which required advanced innovative technology solutions, I always felt the need to continuously update and hone both my technical and business skills.
The main catalyst for staying informed is certainly continuing education, aided by technical courses, but the two areas where I believe I learned the most were: 1) continuing to mentor new engineers who bring different perspectives and diversity of thought, and 2) continuing to maintain and build relationships across the broader technical community, collaborating with peers, technical directors and technical fellows to explore key issues that need solving and innovative ideas.
In my last six years at Northrop Grumman, while still a senior director on the business side, I was nominated and elected into the prestigious Northrop Grumman Fellows, a select group of 30 chosen out of over 7,000 engineers. The honor of being indoctrinated into that level of the technical community from the functional business side was evidence to me of the paramount value in following innovation and staying informed, and bringing next generation solutions to the technical community.
7.) Final thoughts:
Best career advice you ever received: “Always try to embrace diversity of thought, and always try to maintain patience, as due diligence is provided to that diversity of thought. Out of it will come great things.”
Favorite place your travels have taken you: Skiing at the Grindelwald Resort in Switzerland!
Most difficult technology or concept for you to grasp: Software! I went into antennas because Maxwell’s equations were much easier than learning software.
If not in this industry, what you would be doing for a living: I would have been an attorney.
Device(s) you can’t live without: My iPhone.