At RFMW, our customers continually ask for the latest RF components and the latest technology. Often, a design engineer will come across a news article highlighting our suppliers’ products targeting mobile handset applications. Our suppliers offer some the smallest, the best performing and highest levels of integration in the industry. For mobile handsets, they are also price sensitive and low cost – everything a design engineer wants. When a design engineer anxiously contacts us to get samples or evaluation boards or pricing, we generally try to steer them away from these parts. WHY, you ask. It sounds like an easy sale handed on a silver platter. However, supporting this customers’ request may not be supporting this customers’ overall objectives.
For example, one of our suppliers offers SAW filters for LTE handsets. They are cutting edge and desirable. They meet all the criteria the customer wants except, the customer is not designing an LTE handset. His application is a small cell repeater. We generally advise customers like this to use an alternative because of the following:
Obsolescence. The lifetime of any given mobile phone is about 18 months before they are replaced by a new, ‘even better’ phone. For those new phones, the suppliers have new devices that are even smaller and more integrated. The last generation device is then “de-emphasized”. Since a typical small cell design may take between 12-18 months from concept to market, a customers’ product would be headed for production right about the time the handset components are potentially entering their end-of-life stage.
Support. Due to the high volumes required from a relatively small group of handset manufacturers, most component suppliers have a dedicated set of support and service people handling those manufacturers. The focus of these business units is all handset, all the time. If you’re not a handset customer, you probably won’t get timely support. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just good management that any business should follow – allocate resources for the largest ROI.
Availability. Somehow you’ve gotten hold of some mobile phone parts. Despite the lack of support, you’ve designed them in and your product is quickly going to market. You need 50,000 pieces right away so you place an order with your friendly distributor only to hear that one of the big handset guys has placed an order for 1 million pieces. Who is going to get their parts, the guy who needs 50k or the big OEM needing a million, whom by the way, is currently designing his next phone and making decisions about supplier capacity to fulfill future orders? The answer is obvious.
As a specialized distributor, RFMW has insight into this phenomena, we’ve seen it before. Understanding a customer’s long term objectives often demands that we deny short term requests that do not support good business practices.