Qorvo has been heavily investing in technology that will make them a strong contender as a leading supplier to handset OEMs in the 5G future. In December, the company purchased Cavendish Kinetics, an RF MEMS company. On Friday, Qorvo announced that they are in cash purchase agreements for Decawave (approximately $375 million), a leading ultra-wide band (UWB) chip manufacturer, and Custom MMIC (approximately $125 million), a leading supplier of high-performance GaAs and GaN MMICs for defense and aerospace applications.
Cavendish complements Qorvo’s portfolio for switches and tuners, which will be accretive to Qorvo's core business. Meanwhile, Decawave will position the company for the forefront as to offering solutions in mobile, automotive, and IoT, where secure short-range location solutions are growth areas for RF IC makers. Custom MMICs add to Qorvo’s portfolio in the defense and aerospace industries utilizing GaAs and GaN solutions; this also gives the company future potential in developing such solutions on the mobile side (LNAs, PAs, switches, etc.).
UWB is a radio technology based on the IEEE 802.15.4a and 802.15.4z, and it can be used to measure location/distance to centimeter accuracy using little energy. This spatial awareness is achieved by calculating location using the time-of flight data between short radio pulses traveling between devices. Coupling positional accurate, security, and wireless communication, UWB represents a promising low-cost and location-based solution to mobile devices. The infographic below compares the various location-based services.
The technologies in the chart above are complementary, and each plays a vital role in the wireless ecosystem. NXP’s purchase of Marvell’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth unit exhibits the importance of the various connectivity solutions to the company’s product portfolio, and its ability to offer its customers a broader range of connectivity options. NXP is currently the only other leading provider of UWB chips (with exception of Apple). The company provides solutions processing precise, granular data in real time, positioning, movement and distance. The adoption of UWB into handsets and the high data speeds that 5G will offer, will lay the foundation for a new host of applications from IoT to automotive wearables and mobile.
UWB chipsets in the mobile product segment received a market-making boost from Apple as they included their own U1 chipset into the iPhone 11 series. Apple was the first mobile phone maker to include a UWB solution, leveraging their internally developed chip (U1) to precisely locate other iPhone 11 users in the AirDrop application. Universal Scientific (ASE company) is the module package supplier for the UWB module in the iPhone 11-series handsets. UWB technology has a lot of potential uses, such as asset tracking, mobile payment, and other yet undiscovered applications.
Apple’s endorsement of UWB is likely to fast-track industry adoption of UWB in future mobile devices. The primary supplier of UWB chips has been NXP. Qorvo, which is a supplier to Apple, understood the value of UWB and determined that it needed a play in the location-based services market. Decawave provided Qorvo with that opportunity, and given the company’s 16 years in using precise measurement techniques and developing small chips primed for mobiles and wearables. Therefore, it was not entirely surprising for NXP to announce its new UWB chip (the SR100T) in October, enabling smartphones and mobile devices to locate each other. In the same month, the Connected Car Consortium (CCC) has designated that the Digital Key Release 2.0 specification be based upon Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and UWB technologies.
There is tremendous synergy among mobile, automotive, and IoT applications and much potential using UWB. Given Apple’s new U1 chip and other OEMs now looking to provide UWB solutions in their handsets, UWB solutions will become more mainstream. Qorvo has strategically placed itself in the forefront as now being one of the leading suppliers of UWB chipsets.