Interview with Fawad Maqbool from AmpliTech

  • Fawad Maqbool - President and CEO (Founder) / CTO

everything RF recently interviewed Fawad Maqbool, the President and CEO (Founder) / CTO at AmpliTech. AmpliTech currently, is one of the leading developers and manufacturers of custom as well as standard RF components for the commercial, Satcom, Space, and Military markets. The company has a specialization in amplifers and its Low Noise Amplifers and Cryogenic Amplifiers are being used by some of the leading satcom, telecom and defense companies around the globe.

Q. Can you give us a brief history of AmpliTech Inc? When the company was founded and the objective behind it?

Fawad Maqbool​: AmpliTech was started in 2002 to provide the same robust, hi-tech products that were offered by much larger companies at a much lower cost. The goal was to leverage our extensive expertise and relatively small size to create an agile company that could provide the same solutions as the “industry giants” while still being able to adapt easily and quickly to changing market trends. For example, the latter has allowed us to focus not only on RF/Microwave products used in SATCOM and military sectors, but consumer products as well.

Q. What products and solutions does AmpliTech develop?

Fawad Maqbool​: Our forte is Low Noise Amplifiers and Waveguide Amplifiers for the SATCOM, Telecom and Military markets, for which we offer industry-leading performance. We also specialize in Cryogenic Amplifiers, which are ultra-low-noise, extremely low-power LNAs. These are used by top-level research agencies and companies for highly specialized low-temperature applications, such as Radio Astronomy and Quantum Computing. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, we offer many custom solutions, such as Redundant LNA systems or simpler ruggedized housings in which our LNAs are coupled with Fault Detection circuitry to allow remote monitoring.

Q. What market segments do you cater to? Which is the largest segment for you?

Fawad Maqbool​: As already mentioned, our biggest customers are currently in the SATCOM and Military segments, but we are currently shifting a good deal of resources into the areas Quantum Computing and Cybersecurity. Moreover, as originally intended when the company was started, we have a strong focus on developing products that would appeal to the individual consumer market.

Q. Who are some of your customers and what are some interesting applications your products have been integrated into?

Fawad Maqbool​: We’ve supplied amplifiers to IBM, NIST, Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed, Insitu and many other world-renowned organizations. Aside from test and development systems, our products have been used in UAVs, F-series fighter planes, cellular base stations, military radios and a host of other airborne and space applications.

Q. Geographically where are your customers located. Do you expect this to change in the years to come?

Fawad Maqbool​: Technically, our customers are located all over the world, with a particularly strong concentration in Europe. Several U.S. government agencies buy our products in the U.S., but most are exported. Therefore, one of our most fervent hopes is to expand our business in North America, especially domestically, so that more of our products are purchased AND used internally.

Q. What differentiates AmpliTech from other RF/Microwave amplifier manufacturers?

Fawad Maqbool​: As alluded to before, AmpliTech has tremendous experience in designing and developing products for which actual design experience is dwindling in companies deemed as competitors. Many of our methods for improving performance are no longer known in the industry and cannot be duplicated. In addition, as a relatively small company, AmpliTech can not only quickly adapt to new trends, but the low overhead ensures that our costs are always lower than our competitors and our processes more efficient.

Q. Cryogenic Amplifiers seem to be an important area for AmpliTech. Can you tell us more about AmpliTech’s Cryogenic Amplifiers - What is unique about them and what are their applications?

Fawad Maqbool​: Our Cryogenic Amplifiers, like our other low noise products, offer the lowest noise temperatures in the industry. The robust design as well as a unique engineering approach, allows these amplifiers to function in 2K temperatures and provide higher than 40 dB Gain and 2-4K NT over most common bands with VERY minimal power consumption. The low power consumption (<5mw in many cases) is crucial as less dissipated heat is added to the system and the cooling system strains very little to keep the temperature down for the amplifiers to be operate optimally. The most well-known application of these types of cryogenic LNAs, of course, is the accurate measurement of QBits in Quantum Processing, which is considered the next stage in Artificial Intelligence and government cryptography. A high demand for perfecting this technology has many industry giants, such as IBM, Google and many funded universities vying for the best possible solution.

Q. Does AmpliTech develop custom products or do you have more standard products. What percentage of your business is from custom vs standard products?

Fawad Maqbool​: AmpliTech used to be almost solely a custom house. However, I would say that new custom designs are now only about 60-65% of our business and we’ve augmented our resources to not only deal with the custom requirements more effectively, but to create new designs. As for the 35-40%, we’ve developed many models over the years that are “designed-in” and consider “COTS”. This is where our distributorship with East Coast Microwave figures prominently. For many of these designs for which repeat orders are sought, we can have ECM stock them and provide the customer with good pricing and quick delivery.

Q. How are you approaching 5G? The 5G Standard is going to use millimeter wave frequency bands and AmpliTech has a large range of products that address these higher frequencies. Are you doing any product development specifically targeting 5G?

Fawad Maqbool​: The approach is the same as it with all things. We advertise, look for interested parties and offer consignment units where there is a promise of later demand. The 5G standard, along with most SATCOM/TELECOM applications, requires waveguide expertise. We not only have this expertise, but also have a unique transitioning method between the waveguide and LNA which guarantees the best performance. Although we’ve had products in the traditional 5G area for some time, we’re now concentrating on perfecting designs for 25-28 GHz waveguide amplifiers, which will be the basis of the 5G-NR movement. The latter promises to be much more in demand, because it deals with DATA, not just voice.

Q. AmpliTech currently develops products up to 40 GHz. Are you looking to go higher up in frequency? The W-Band is a frequency that seems to be getting some traction for Space Applications - Is this something you are considering?

Fawad Maqbool​: Designing devices that operate above 50 GHz is not a problem for us. However, the extra cost due to the special parts required and the additional cost of the equipment required to test and tune those designs simply make them unfeasible at this time given the competition in this particular area. However, we hope to legitimately crack the market by the end of the first quarter of next year.

Q. AmpliTech announced the acquisition of Specialty Microwave Corp in May 2019. Can you tell us more about the acquisition? What made you decide to acquire them? What synergies do you expect from this acquisition?

Fawad Maqbool​: Acquisition target, Specialty Microwave Corp, is a company that we work with currently to supply a common large customer (Viasat) among others, by providing components for military and commercial airline Wi-Fi enabling wireless and high-speed internet access. They build larger systems, but our components will be designed into their systems and then re-sold to achieve higher revenues and margins. We can also use their current capabilities and equipment and our design expertise to develop new product lines. SMW will expand AMPG’s engineering capabilities and overall team and the combined resources can now support larger customers and generate higher throughput, productivity, which leads to higher revenue and profit.

Q. What is the roadmap for AmpliTech in the next five years?

Fawad Maqbool​: AmpliTech is investing in R&D effort to offer a new line of medium power amplifiers (up to 2 watts), bench top amplifiers, low noise block converters, waveguide adapters, and a low-cost amplifier product line. We also will be leveraging the services of Specialty Microwave Corp to machine our own housings and waveguides, which will allow us to continue to support our competitive price strategy, while offering shorter lead times.

In addition to amplifiers, we will also utilize SMC’s integrated assembly capabilities to offer redundant Low Noise Amplifier Systems and integrated solutions for the SATCOM market. In concert with these immediate efforts, we will continue to focus on In Flight Entertainment, industry trends such as cryogenic amplifiers, and RF components and assemblies for the 5G market. Finally, we are also developing product that will be available for public consumption in the consumer and business markets.