April 8, 2019

    Whether building individual Wi-Fi devices or managing larger projects for the wireless market, it's important to consider all design-related expenses to better keep the cost of production in line with a business's budget and profit creation strategy. As design engineers are responsible for determining the specific components for their Wi-Fi solution, going back-and-forth on redesigns due to budgetary constraints can be very frustrating. It may be easy to lose sight of overall business goals when searching for the perfect part, but there are some key areas to keep top-of-mind while selecting components that will help reduce design costs and keep production budgets on track.

    The following suggestions for working component costs into your Wi-Fi design budget can help keep teams aligned and prevent costly, and frustrating, redesigns. This checklist applies to any size project and is designed for both first-time planners, as well as more experienced project managers.

    Identify Your Target Market

    Knowing your end user is critical as the Wi-Fi market for high-end products is significantly different than that of lower-end products. The variance in user demographics comes with established price ranges, expected features and performance criteria that will all directly affect your budget from both a design standpoint as well as sales and profit outlook. Depending on the budget with which you're working, tradeoffs in performance and features can come with big shifts in the cost to source the needed components, as well as end-product pricing. Knowing what can and cannot be sacrificed will provide initial guidance on how to look for components that fit your budget as well as the quality and reliability needed for your solutions to sell effectively. While a higher-quality component often correlates to a higher procurement cost, this isn't always the case. As we'll cover later, choosing the proper Wi-Fi RF front-end (RFFE) solution can provide high performance along with cost- and space-savings.

    Price Products Competitively

    It's important to understand the market and competitor pricing structures for products similar to what you're developing. Setting a product's price too high compared to the competition, or what the market currently dictates, can put your products at a disadvantage. Understanding the average selling prices for devices in your market segment helps define a more realistic pricing structure and, working backward from that end price, you can determine a component budget that is more in line with your company's business goals. This strategy also helps determine what your direct competitors are likely paying for similar components in their products. If you offer a product of the same, or higher quality for a slightly better price to the end user, you may be on your way to gaining additional market share.

    Target Optimal Gross Margins

    Beyond establishing goals for design costs, it's important to align final product cost and selling prices with your expected profit margins to ensure successful revenue targets. For example, it may be unrealistic to plan for a 55% margin in a market segment that only averages a margin of 45%. These numbers aren't always obvious or easy to come by initially, so it's important to work cross-functionally with finance, procurement, and your sales teams to gain a better understanding of your business's margin requirements. Researching the competitive landscape and knowing what revenue can realistically be achieved by your design solutions will guide more optimized budgets that align all portions of a business and provide insight into areas where additional costs may make sense.

    Understanding the market for your products in terms of target pricing and user demographics is a key step in laying the groundwork for an effective budget – one that works well while allowing flexibility as solutions develop and costs start to accumulate.

    Design and Timing Effects on Cost

    Now that you've established the requirements for your target market, there are some specific design-related elements to consider:

    • Time-to-market impacts
    • Use of RFFE discrete bundled or highly integrated solutions

    Time-to-Market

    Projected timing around your product's release-to-market is an important item to discuss with your procurement and marketing teams. A component supplier's ability (or lack thereof) to meet your prototype and production needs has a direct impact on when you can release a finished device. If your desired time-to-market does not align with the RFFE supplier's capabilities, then this could cause product release delays. Too much of a delay may require a redesign in order to use parts that are available and meet your company's needs. Working with a supply chain partner that meets your quality standards, requested quantities, ramp up volumes, and production volumes in the timeframe needed is key to your project's success. It's also important to be aware of any directly competing or complementary products that may be launched in your market segment at the same time. It could detract from your marketing team's success to launch a product to capitalize on the right market conditions (e.g. releasing the product to offset a competitor or timing the release in conjunction with products that work with yours). For example, if your solution is a new IoT sensor that requires consistent connectivity throughout a home or office to work efficiently, choosing to launch alongside a Wi-Fi mesh device that provides the distributed connection your solution uses to communicate will likely benefit sales for both products.

    RFFE Discrete Product Bundling or Integration

    Component bundling and integration is yet another potential cost saving strategy and should be considered if size and price are of significance. This approach frequently reduces design time and complexities involved in additional board tuning. Along with minimizing the quantity of parts used in a design, integration provides for a smaller solution size at a lower cost. Choosing a single supplier who offers a discrete bundle of products or highly-integrated module can help streamline the design process – requiring less coordination across multiple vendors. Some suppliers have incorporated important filter technology that mitigates interference and improves coexistence for Wi-Fi solutions. Compared to a discrete filter approach, a filter that's integrated within a module can further reduce the need for tuning and remove extra components needed for compatibility or thermal management.

    Specific Product Solutions to Consider: RFFE Modules, iFEMs & Thermal Management

    As a leading supplier of high-quality RF components for Wi-Fi products, Qorvo offers many solutions that help engineers with space-savings, cost-savings, and performance challenges.

    Engineers looking for parts with solid performance records, that meet global Wi-Fi standard specifications, offer space savings and reduced cost solutions might consider Qorvo's front-end module (FEM) technology. Qorvo FEMs integrate many discrete components into one solution – so your design doesn't need a separate power amplifier, low noise amplifier or switch and filter. Combining all the RFFE components and functions into one compact, easy-to-use package reduces costs, PCB footprint, and overall design time. With these FEMs, PCB size can be reduced by an average of 25%.

    Qorvo's integrated front-end modules (iFEMs) provide additional cost-saving solutions for designers by leveraging highly-efficient BAW filters. These bandedge and coexistence Wi-Fi filters address the stringent thermal challenges of multi-user multiple-input/multiple-output (MU-MIMO) systems, without compromising harmonic compliance and emissions performance – properties critical to achieving reliable coverage across the full allocated spectrum. The iFEMs allow customers to meet FCC requirements without sacrificing performance (FCC certification is required for devices in the U.S.) and offer significant size reductions to aid designers in creating smaller, more attractive end-user devices for homes and office environments.

    Using iFEMs decreases the need for sourcing individual filtering and amplifying components providing critical space- and cost-savings. Additional external components like capacitors, inductors and resistors can increase cost by as much as 15%. Thus, when an engineer eliminates even two external components, there can be substantial savings.

    Finally, when designing with thermal challenges in mind, PA efficiency is crucial to consider. RF PA efficiency affects PCB thermals and package dimensions. Knowing the PA efficiency specification under various Wi-Fi modes is important to understand the effect of a PA's efficiency on your system design and avoid costly re-designs, heatsinks or regulatory requirement failures. With the trend toward smaller, yet more powerful devices, Qorvo also provides components that offer low-current and high-efficiency options with low power dissipation. These features translate to better heat management and potential cost reduction through the elimination of expensive added heat sinks.

    The following table outlines some specific parts to consider for your next Wi-Fi 6 design:

    Frequency Part Number Functions Applications
    5 GHz QPF4588 PA+SW+LNA+CPLR+Filter Up to 8 x 8 Mu-MIMO
    QPF4528
    QPF4516B PA+SW+LNA+Filter 160 MHz channels for 4 x 4 MIMO
    QPF4506B
    2.4 GHz QPF4288 PA+SW+LNA+CPLR+Filter Up to 8 x 8 Mu-MIMO
    QPF4228
    QPF4216B PA+SW+LNA+Filter 160 MHz channels for 4 x 4 MIMO
    QPF4206B


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