Analog Angle Article

So what’s hot in analog these days?

As we hopefully await warmer weather here in the New England area–we had a cold and tough winter, a cool spring, and a cool/wet start to summer—and we slog through what has been a “cold” first half of bookings for 2009–there's a parallel question of sorts: what's “hot” in analog?

I could give you a long list, but I'll keep it short. But first, let me give you my judgment criteria: I assess what's hot by how many new IC and related products are released for a given niche, not on market forecasts from various research groups. Why is this? I feel that vendors, who have to invest serious money to bring a product to market, have a better sense of the trends than a research report based on broad-based surveys which include many folks who don't have direct insight, or actual committed investment.

This doesn't mean that such market surveys and reports are meaningless (as with all such efforts, some are, some aren't, most are in-between) but I feel more comfortable basing my bets and views on what is actually happening at “street level”.

Here's where I see a lot of activity over the next 6 to 12 months:

  • –Power over Ethernet (PoE): with the impending final ratification of the enhanced, higher-power PoE specification IEEE 802.3at, lots of vendors are getting into PoE with controllers, protection circuits, power supplies (some are for what are called “midspans”, truly a dreadful term), and related functions.
  • –LED drivers: we're seeing lots of these for area illumination, for LED arrays, for LED backlighting of LCD screens, for all sorts of LED applications. These drivers include a range of power levels, voltage (compliance) values, protection and fault circuitry, as the various LED applications have various topologies and thus diverse requirements in their output architectures and drive levels. A single, high-power LED is a very different creature than a series/parallel array used for backlighting.
  • –USB, especially USB 3.0: again, with the establishment of a formal specification for this faster, more powerful version of now-ubiquitous USB interface, I see physical-level interface ICs, test sets for validation, protection components, and related components. Note that USB 3.0 is not just USB 2.0 with a faster clock and more powerful drive; it has new protocols and formats as well.
  • –RF power amplifiers: with the incentive of new standards and frequencies for cell phones and diverse wireless handheld products (LTE, 3G, 4G, and WiMAX), performance and power consumption are key factors. This means the power amplifier (PA) has to be efficient, reliable, and able to handle the multiple bands and antenna loads. Both established and relatively new vendors are active in this niche, since PA design does not require a lot of active elements but it does require specialized semiconductor processes, modeling tools, and physical layout.
  • –Line drivers, receivers, and equalizers for the fast wired links, such as needed for digitized video in studios, interconnecting all those ICs, PCBs, and even chassis. These high-speed signals may be “digital” in theory, but they exist in a Gbps analog world so they suffer distortion, group delay, phase shifts, roll off, attenuation, and noise, and all the other ills of the real world. Keeping them clean, pure, and error free, while driving them down coax or CAT5 or twisted pair cables takes specialized analog circuitry and management.

So that's what I am seeing from my perspective. Of course, what you see depends on where you are standing. Which analog areas do you see that are hot?♦

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