You probably have never heard of Ethertronics but there is a good chance you have used one of their antenna related products. The company makes antennas, tuning chips, and related software for cell phones and related devices.
While they started out on the antenna side, Ethertronics is now on their third generation of antenna tuning and RF switching chips. The first generation of these smart antenna ICs were just tuning devices, capacitance and impedance matching to avoid iPhone 4 like whoopsies. These were matched to the Ethertronics antenna designs in devices like some flavors of the Samsung Galaxy SII. As you can see below, these IC’s aren’t all that large but given the importance of reception, they are critical.
The packages on the left are the antenna tuning chips
From there the second generation devices added an RF switch to widen available bandwidth, allow the use of multiple frequencies, and in general support the use cases of modern phones. If you are wondering how a phone uses frequencies between 700MHz and 2.6GHz without 71 antennas, chips like this are the answer. These second gen parts, and others like them, enable a phone to do 2G, 3G, and 4G without exponential effort going in to the antennas.
The third generation device, basically the current one, adds a few new features like carrier aggregation, multiple antennas for MIMO, and does it all in one chip. As you can see, Ethertronics started out with the cell equivalent of rabbit ears and is slowly subsuming more and more of the RF front end every generation.
What makes Ethertronics interesting is more on the support and design side, and this is where their roots in antennas come in to play. The third generation chip is both smart and bundled with a bit of software. That software contains their algorithms for antenna tuning, and since this is all the company does, you probably can see how they are better at it than the average OEM.
Ethertronics provides some smarts on their 3rd generation chip that allows them to run a few algorithms on device using local data sets and lookup tables. If you think about the speeds needed to track signals in phone, the latency from offloading this to the main SoC could be painful. Putting that in a mostly closed loop on the antenna tuner and switch itself seems to be a no-brainer.
If you don’t design cell phones or RF front ends, this is probably pretty meaningless to you, but look at the module on the right in the picture above. Ethertronics calls this their EtherModule 1.0, basically an antenna on a card. With something like this, a PC OEM who wants to add wireless capabilities to their device doesn’t have to hire expensive antenna development engineers and equipment, they can just buy a card. EtherModule 1.0 will do Wi-Fi, M2M bands, ISM at 2.4GHz/868MHz/915MHz, and a bunch of other frequencies too. And because it is a self-contained device, it should be far less fiddly than an internally sourced solution.
In short Ethertronics says it is plug and play for OEMs, and should have enough software support to make life easier. That part is key to the EtherModule and all three generations of chips, they do the annoying domain specific bits that most OEMs aren’t good at. Making an antenna is easy, making it work in a variety of problematic corner cases is really hard. Having someone familiar with the inevitable issues and hopefully pre-rolled solutions with code is invaluable. That is why Ethertronics caught SemiAccurate’s attention, the silicon is usually not the hard part in RF.S|A
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