I had an opportunity to talk with Joe Gifford, VP of business development for SkyCross. For those of you who are unfamiliar with SkyCross, they provide antenna solutions to the mobile phone, home entertainment, and computing industries. There are a few interesting things about SkyCross. First, they are protocol-independent. This means that they do not design antennas for a specific band, but instead create solutions for whatever radio frequency is required, whether it is GSM/CDMA, GPS, mobile video, WiFi, BlueTooth, and more.
As well, they have a method of reducing the number of required antennas by using multiple feed points on the same antenna while still allowing radios to operate simultaneously. This means that a phone that has as many as eight different antennas can now achieve the same RF functionality with only five antennas or fewer.
Antennas have always been a problem in mobile systems, especially with the trend towards smaller form factors. As the antennas get closer together the signals start to interfere with each other, degrading the signal quality. This can mean dropped calls or packets, static or pops, or inactivation.
There are basically three ways to handle the isolation coupling. You can move the antennas farther apart so that there is less interference. You can allow it to happen or only allow radios to function when others are not operating. Or you can find a way to make it all work together, which is SkyCross's method.
SkyCross has a product called iMat which achieves this goal. It was an integration technique developed about two year ago to address isolation coupling and allows for high efficiency. Essentially it makes the radiation pattern for the RF signals as different as possible to let them operate simultaneously on the same antenna with as much as 30dB of isolation.
Mr. Gifford provided a few insights into what they are seeing in the industry. First is the shrinkage of the middle tier of the cell phone industry. The trend seems to be towards the extremes, either the fully functionally smart phone, which is not only for business purposes any longer, or the ultra-low cost cell phone for basic functionality.
Antennas are key for both of these systems. For the smart phones, more connection types are required to increase the functionality. With the increase in RF signals, more antennas are needed, unless you can find a way to use multiple feedpoints. In the ultra-low cost market, fewer antennas will reduce the BOM.
Mobile Internet Devices
This is a product that has been talked about for quite some time, but it is finally starting to see the light of day. A MID is essentially an in between product. It is one step beyond in terms of feature functionality and mobility from phones but one step below laptops.
As with the smart phone, this is a fully featured solution so again requires a number of connection types. Even though MIDs have a larger footprint than a phone, isolation issues are still prevalent and reducing the number of antennas can reduce the BOM.
There is potentially a large market for these solutions and with the advent of ClearWire and their technology, SkyCross expects to see these enter the market quite soon, with future systems connection to additional bands, such as EVDO networks.
And finally, as with most interviews, things turned to the economy. SkyCross sees the downturn and has suffered from some of the effects. But despite this there is still a remaining pie of the handset market that are being manufactured, most of which are expected to be smart phones. And looking towards the future, with new bands like 4G, antennas are a required piece going forward in any system.
Investors must feel the same as Mr. Gifford as in February SkyCross secured $23 million in new investment. While other companies are reducing their workforce and closing offices, SkyCross is hiring and expanding into new areas like Taiwan and Japan, and looking at Europe and the west coast.