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A leading Taiwan IC fabless crafts versatile RF technology: Interview with Peter Chen, product marketing manager of AMICCOM
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We are constantly bombarded with electromagnetic waves of all kinds of radio frequencies (RF), many of them have been encoded with specific information, whether it is a voice, a tone, or various digital data streams. Electronics devices such as wireless router (Access Point), cordless phone, baby monitor and garage gate remote control are all counted on radio frequency wireless technology.

Not only home market but also the public service sectors like Electronic Toll Collection (ETC), the system by collecting tolls automatically through accounts of registered car owners without requiring them to stop, are engaged to new emerging RF applications.

AMICCOM Electronics Corporation (AMICCOM), founded in November 2005 and listed in Taiwan Over-the-Counter GreTai Securities Market in May 2013, is an expert in RF SoC sector. Peter Chen, product marketing manager, highlighted there are three major product lines divided by different frequency ranges and features. They are 2.4GHz, sub-1GHz and LNB RF chips.

In 2.4GHz product line mainly are focus on the applications including wireless mouse deices, wireless earphone and other PC peripherals, wireless toys and baby monitor systems. AMICCOM RF ICs enjoy a very good market share in China market. Taking baby monitor as an example, the benefits of granted FCC and other safety compliance certification help AMICCOM staying the dominant market position in China white box market in Dongguan and Shenzhen area. Once the chips have been designed in the specification, the vendors won't change it because significant time and money investment to get new safety certification again and again.

Competition among this frequency range is fierce, and most of the fabless chipmakers are facing pressure to upgrade their wireless technology and product quality, shorten lead time and competitive pricing rates. Hence, AMICCOM is continuing to focus on the complexity of consumer IC designs including the combination of audio and RF IC together.

Apart from 2.4GHz tight competition market, low-noise block downconverter (LNB), which is the receiving device mounted on satellite dishes used for satellite TV reception to collect the radio waves from the dish, is a very niche market for satellite communication system. AMICCOM is one of few suppliers who can offer LNB Switch Matrix IC to Taiwan satellite EMS vendors.

China government tenders strengthen the growth momentum of RF chips

PC peripheral segment contributes a good chip volume for the company except big profit earnings. The sub-1GHz segment is becoming a cash cow for AMICCOM. This is because several mainstream applications in China city development projects leverage the benefits from RF technologies. Some AMICCOM's cooperated system integrators and partners joined together and successfully won China ETC System government tenders by using AMICCOM RF SoC products. The solution is achieving low power consumption and low voltage drive for battery operation with a very good link budget. There is one most impressive feature which is 4mA Ultra low Rx receiving current. This specification is only one third power consumption of other competitor's products.

AMICCOM will continue developing products suited for the growing China market and aim to expand to different region of cities across China. Peter mentioned the new development of design-in phase toward China smart grid tender competition. This solution is aiming automatic meter reading, which is a technology of automatically collecting consumption, diagnostic, and status data from energy metering devices such as gas or electricity and transferring that data to a central database for billing. It will be a new potential business opportunity for the next 12 months.

Other upcoming and booming applications are automotive electronics solutions using RF technologies. Peter presented themselves as an RF IC provider and designed a series of RF IC chips aiming automotive market, especially car alarm system in automotive aftermarket sector. He highlighted there are third party developers have already built solutions using AMICCOM technology for this application. For example, the multifunction RF control to find the parking location of the car and equip with features of pre-starting up the engine. This design is specially fitting the requirement in the winter time of Russia area.

In Eurpoe, the remote sensing and control system for the seat heating pads are one of the applications to be used in the automobile aftermarket. It is also a good potential for other areas. AMICCOM is seeking more versatile applications in automotive aftermarket using RF technology.

ESL system drives new emerging solutions

The physical retail stores have been stressing out about competition from online stores. Retailers tried introduce different electronic technologies to maintain the competence in the market. An electronic shelf label (ESL) system is a good example to display this innovation approach. ESL implemented by retailers enhanced the capability of displaying product pricing on shelves. Typically, the ESL modules are attached to the front edge of retail shelving. These modules use E-paper to show the current product price to the customer.

AMICCOM supported this project through 3rd party POS(Point of Sales) system integrators and one Taiwan E-paper supplier. E-paper is currently trending in the ESL market as it provides clear display and supports full graphic imaging. Integrated with AMICCOM RF technology, the wireless communication network has been built and allowed the price display to be automatically updated whenever a product price is changed. Meanwhile, dynamic pricing is helping retailers to fluctuate pricing to match demand, online competition, inventory levels, shelf-life of items, and to create promotions.

The demands of automated ESL systems got attention from industry. AMICCOM strength in this field is mainly from RF IC products equipped with higher data transmitting speed and ultra low power consumption and time to market support. These unique capabilities are maintaining very high competitive strength in industry.

Effective supply chain, strong partnership and solid RF technology form AMICCOM successful factors

AMICCOM realized that the only product to survive in the market is to improve their core competence in order to design complex IC, which can meet the rapid change in demand. Hence, AMICOMM started to focus on the complexity of new generation SoC ICs.

Considering the red ocean competition in low data speed rate and low power segments, the new product roadmap will target more product portfolios toward high data speed and low power solutions aiming both 2.4G and 5.8GHz range. And the 5.8GHz SoC ICs will be ready soon.

To create a sustainable competitive advantage, R&D investment is essential. In AMICCOM, half of the employees are R&D engineers, which show their dedication of designing innovative and functional SoC products. The headquarter is located at HsinChu Science Park. And another two FAE offices have been setup at Shenzhen and Shanghai to support customers in China.

A fabless RF chipmaker whoever provides total solutions to satisfy the significant needs of clients would be a winner. Effective supply chain management and a strong relationship with suppliers can shorten the distance between development teams and customers. The supply chain network of AMICCOM is complete and solid. The strong relationship with foundries allowed them to fabricate outstanding and sophisticated SoC products that meet international standards. Through solid IC product development and strong presence in China and Taiwan RF market for years, AMICCOM is expecting more cooperation projects in North America and Europe market.

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