Interview with John Greichen from Custom MMIC

  • John Greichen - VP, Sales & Marketing

everything RF Interviewed John Greichen, VP, Sales & Marketing, Custom MMIC. Custom MMIC is a fabless semiconductor company offering a rapidly growing standard product family of high-performance MMICs, while still offering custom design and delivery of unique solutions. The company has longstanding relationships with world-class MMIC foundries, and offer the highest reliability, including military and space qualification.

Q. Can you give us a brief history of Custom MMIC?

Custom MMIC was founded in 2006 by Paul Blount as an MMIC design service company. In fact, our formal name is Custom MMIC Design Services, Inc. Paul’s goal for Custom MMIC at the time was to provide state of the art MMIC design services to military and space clients.

Q. Is Custom MMIC more of a custom design house or do you make more standard products? What is the break up of Custom vs Standard in terms of revenue?

Custom MMIC is very much a standard products MMIC company that also does design service. Six years ago, we made the strategic decision to offer a strong product portfolio. We shortened our public name to Custom MMIC to keep the name recognition but acknowledge the de-emphasis of design service. Standard product sales are more than 80% of our business and we have over 140 excellent products on our website. Our strategy is to offer all the functions in a typical microwave signal chain and be open to key customer requests for unique MMIC needs.

Q. What RF & Microwave component product lines you offer?

Custom MMIC has performance leading products across most of the functions in a typical microwave signal chain. We started some years ago with low noise amplifier and distributed amplifiers, but now have a strong portfolio of all the functions shown in the diagram below. Our design team is well known for innovation in all these functions.

Q. What markets do you target? What is the break up between Military, SATCOM, and Defense?

We serve the military, space, instrumentation and communications markets. We are quite focused on military and space customers, listening to their needs to help drive our roadmap. Given our origins in military and space, those markets make up the majority of our business, but the instrumentation and communications are coming on strong.

Q. Who are your customers? What is the geographic break up of your customers by region?

Our global customers range from tier 1 defense contractors to microwave instrumentation companies. Our goal is to serve the broad need for high-performance GaAs and GaN MMICs. North America is a strong region for us, given our start in design services for US defense companies. International growth is high however and becoming a higher percentage of our business each quarter.

Q. Are you Fabless? Which Fabs do you work with? What Semiconductor technologies do you use most - GaAs, GaN, SiC etc.?

Custom MMIC operates with a fabless model. We work with all the worldwide GaAs and most of the GaN foundries. Our portfolio is mostly GaAs at this point, with about 10% of our products using GaN. We do not currently work with CMOS or SiGe.

Q. Custom MMIC is one of the only companies we know to have developed a GaN Mixer - Can you tell us more about this product?

Custom MMIC is unique in undertaking research on how best to exploit the robust GaN transistor for functions beyond power amplifiers. We currently have GaN LNAs and power amplifiers in our standard product portfolio, and recently completed custom designs for GaN mixers. Those mixers will be commercial products in the next several months.

GaN mixers offer higher linearity than possible with GaAs. Our customers seek the highest performance possible, in electronic warfare applications for example. We see 10-15 dB improvement in IP3 with GaN. Please review the paper written by our chief scientist, Charlie Trantanella.

Q. Can you tell us about a few other interesting products that have been developed by Custom MMIC? What drove this product development?

This is a rich area for discussion given all our innovations!

We announced the CMD283C3 Ultra Low Noise Amplifier at IMS2018. This breakthrough LNA offers a 0.6 dB noise figure which rivals discrete implementations. Customers needing excellent noise figure no longer need to suffer the design and manufacturing challenges of a discrete LNA designs.

Another interesting and unique product family is our low phase noise amplifiers. These amplifiers enable electronic warfare and other very high-performance receiver designers to maintain great phase noise from the frequency source (e.g. VCO) to the LO of their mixer. Our GaAs HBT low phase noise amplifiers offer -165 dBc/Hz residual phase noise performance at 10 kHz offset. Please see this technical brief explaining more about these amps.

We have a great portfolio of fast GaAs switches, and recently introduced our CMD215 DC-40GHz MMIC switch, with switching speed of 4 ns.

Q. Can you tell us about your Space Qualified Products - Can any of your products be Space Qualified? What is the qualification process and how long does it take?

We are happy to inform customers that over 90% of our portfolio can be space qualified. We find many customers struggling to find space qualifiable parts or companies interested in undertaking such a qualification.

We have space heritage and have undertaken over 15 space qualifications, all successfully. We embrace whatever qualification process the customer requires, all the way up to full Class K per MIL-PRF-38534. The qualification process is defined by MIL-PRF-38534 or NASA standards in the US, and by European and Asia Space Agency standards outside the US. Space qualification is often a 30 week or more process to complete all the rigorous tests.

Q. Why do large and small customers buy from Custom MMIC? What differentiates Custom MMIC from its competitors?

Customers have come to prefer Custom MMIC for a number of reasons. First and foremost, our products are chosen for their high performance and unique features. In addition, customers want great support, which often they cannot get from our competitors. Custom MMIC prides itself on rapid responsiveness – to quote requests, to technical questions and to rush orders. Customers value this and remember it for a long time.