Power Trends: Architecting modern power – Ericsson Power Modules

Power Trends: Architecting modern power – Ericsson Power Modules

Interviews |
By Nick Flaherty

Formed in the late seventies, Ericsson Power Modules is a division of Ericsson that primarily designs and manufactures isolated DC/DC converters and non-isolated voltage regulators such as point-of-load units ranging in output power from 1 W to 860 W. The products are aimed at (but not limited to) the new generation of ICT (information and communication technology) equipment where systems’ architects are designing boards for optimized control and reduced power consumption.

“We were at the forefront of the power modules in 1979 and founded [as a separate division] in 1983 and spearheaded the market with the PKA modules, to the PKF moulded module that was a huge success and then reengineered to the [intermediate bus converter] IBC and [advanced bus converter] ABC range where we are today,” said Martin Hägerdal, president of Ericsson Power Modules for the last eight years and corporate vice president at parent company Ericsson.  

“We are seeing a more gradual transformation into a software-driven power market which will have a lot of implications for everyone,” he said. The company currently has a turnover of $150m according to independent analyst estimates and a compound growth of 8% for the last eight years, driven by the growth of the datacom and telecoms markets.

These have fairly similar needs, he says. “According to our market intelligence this is the largest segment, and to some extent we are chasing power density. Even if you are at 96.5% efficiency you are losing 3.5% so if you save 0.5% you have saved 1/7ths, or improved the electricity bill of the customer by 14% which is a huge saving. It’s diminishing returns but it’s something we will continue to work with to get those returns.

“The next step for the larger savings is when you get the system to cooperate as a system – the load, power converter and even further up the line all working together, that’s where you will find the next large savings and that will be digital,” he said.

In the datacom market the need is for power density as there is plenty of cooling – if you put 25kW in a rack with 90% efficiency then you have 10% to cool off so that’s one trend that we are seeing and we will continue to see that, he says. But another trend in other parts of the market such as microwave, parts of the telecoms market it’s not so much the need for smaller modules but for high efficiency.

“When we go into the very small cell markets they look more like a WiFi router or set top box and other things will come into play as we will have huge volumes and price will be much more important,” he said. “That’s where we are heading – we have the BMR466 – our customers are operating at much higher temperatures so heat dissipation will be very important and the 466 could play a huge role in both the small cells and the traditional basestations.”

The changes to lots of smaller basestations is having a significant impact on the power requirements. “If the telecom market develops the way you read about it right now, there will be a lot of small radio base stations. Then you will have a situation where you will have basestations like you have today and there you will see that the customers will operate at higher temperatures,” he said.

Technology challenges

This brings a specific set of technology challenges. “Of course it is power density that is the challenge,” he said. “We are now planning to release a 1000W quarter brick after a 600w BMR458 and to do that with high efficiency and to parallel these in an efficient way so that you do not lose power – there I think we are at the lead.”

The move into fully digital also allows modules to be smaller and more optimised. There can be 50 to 60 parameters that the customer can access, but using these for additional point of load supplies still provides higher efficiency and flatter curves even without making use of the digital flexibility and all the options.


“I don’t share the view that there’s a high degree of consolidation now implying that there wasn’t before,” said Hägerdal. “There has always been a high degree of consolidation in the power industry and so it’s nothing new. How we are impacted is more from a perspective competitiveness of competitors goes up and down very much, the companies and go. We see new companies come up and take the market share that is left.”

He sees the power semiconductor consolidation as a positive move.  

“If you have consolidation within the supplier base that is generally a good thing as you have a more stable supplier base and you get rid of the smaller companies with a shaky supply chain,” he said. “Security of supply is very important to us and our customers and we work a great deal with that, so our suppliers becoming bigger could be a good thing.”

That’s one of the driver behind the AMP (Architects of Modern Power) consortium with CUI and Murata to define standard footprints for modules.

Digital power

“Every other module we ship is digital and has been so for the last three to five years so is it mature? Yes, definitely, and our digital technology has exactly the same aspects as analog technology when it comes to quality. Digital technology offers an enormous upside in functionality, and we see a huge development going forward for digital technology – there’s a lot of things left to do for improving overall system efficiency where digital technology can contribute. Of course there are a lot of contributors to that eco-system and we initiated the AMP consortium where the starting point was to make sure we could bring a solid second source to the market.

“We plan to use the AMP consortia to develop to create partnerships within the ecosystem – we are looking at different ways of working with ASIC and FPGA vendors to see if we can create different kinds of pre-defined reference designs and incorporating them into the software tools to make it easy for a future board designer to make it easier to include them on the board.”

Other exclusive Power Trends interviews:

Power Trends: All change at Stadium power  

Power Trends: Small is beautiful – Exar

Power trends: IoT drives the move to software defined power – CUI

Power Trends: Microsemi sees integration from device to module drive innovation

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