Head of Hardware
Hanwha Phasor/Phasor Solutions
Head of Hardware
From October 2013
Principal Hardware Engineer
April 2010 to October 2013
Principal Hardware Engineer
January 2006 to March 2010
Principal Hardware Engineer
March 1992 to December 2005
BICC Data Networks
Aug 1998 – Feb 1992
University of Plymouth
1985 – 1989
BEng (Hons) Electrical & Electronic Engineering
Getting Hanwha Phasor up to a critical mass of some 90 employees, all working together across the spectrum of engineering disciplines like bees in a hive, is very satisfying for Simon Cushin. He was one of the nine Phasor Solutions employees selected to take the start-up’s technology forward under the aegis of Hanwha Phasor in June 2020. That was after achieving enviable manufacturing readiness levels on the hardware for the original Phasor Solutions antenna prototype. At that time, few, if any, competitors had linked to a satellite, never mind one with such a compact form factor. However, he is just as proud of the culture of the business that has endured beyond the start-up’s administration and acquisition. Its technology may be genius but its people – now numbering 90 – are a big part of Cushin’s love of the business.
When Cushin joined the advanced technology arm of BICC Data Networks as a graduate trainee, he “blundered,” as he puts it, into Ethernet, specifically market-leading Ethernet transceivers and stackable hubs. And when BICC was acquired by computer networking pioneer 3Com, things really took off. The merger spurred the development of a highly profitable range of network interface controllers, routers and wireless access products, with Cushin contributing significantly to the company’s market leadership in hubs, switches and transceivers.
He developed the company’s first optical fibre-based ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) product – a telecoms backhaul device – and, after designing its first gigabit copper and fibre transceiver modules, Cushin played an active role in developing IEEE 802.3 standards for gigabit Ethernet over copper and fibre interfaces.
3Com’s star burned brightly for some 20 years, peaking with the dot.com boom in 2000, when it was the subject of various acquisitions and its technological bets and change in market strategy failed. Its activities settled into an outsource model. After being part of a dynamic team designing original, top-of-the-chart products for over a decade, that model held little interest for Cushin.
He sought opportunities in the Cambridge tech community and was snapped up by ultra-wideband house Artimi as “one of the few people at the time who understood layout for high-speed, high frequency RF connectivity.” In contrast to the power and glitz of 3Com’s North American operating culture, he loved the energy of this diminutive, fast-paced start-up, involving moderate levels of documentation with “just enough small-scale processes in terms of how you do hardware design properly”. There are some standards on which Cushin will never compromise.
He liked Artimi’s idea of putting high frequency, ultra-wideband based wireless USB chipsets into cameras and handheld devices; and he was inspired by working with a new breed of tech investors including the entrepreneur, venture capitalist and inventor Hermann Hauser. Applications included remote downloading of pictures and video to PCs and TVs. “You could plug a dongle into your laptop which would give you wireless connectivity from PC to screen,” he explains. However, it proved difficult to get everyone to decide on feature sets and interface standards, which ended up including everything but the kitchen sink, he admits. Inevitably, what ended up being a costly, dual chipset solution failed to sell.
Eventually, however, Artimi was regularly doing reference designs and learning from first contact with the all-powerful Taiwanese and Korean electronics companies, experiencing at first hand their desire “for the first million chips for free.” After a merger with San Diego-based Staccato, they did sell in volume on good terms to original equipment manufacturers, largely in Asia.
New projects beckoned facilitated by Staccato’s a single chip CMOS ultra-wideband chip from which media streaming products were developed. One was “Veebeam”, a ultra-wideband solution enabling HD video to be streamed via a wireless dongle and a set-top box from laptops to HD TVs. “We sold a few tens of thousands on Amazon,” he says with characteristic modesty.
Eventually, set-top box devices became commonplace but ultra-wideband as a consumer technology failed to gain wide market acceptance amidst the growing range of Wi-Fi standards. The company drifted into hardware and software consultancy and with it went Cushin and Veebeam, collaborating with companies designing products which included nano-positioning solutions for instrumentation and life science businesses.
BUT FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HIS CAREER HE WAS COASTING. A friend who had been badgering Cushin for years about the satcom phased array start-up in London (where he was working) finally got through to him. And it was nirvana for a hardware guy, surely? What was not to like about a product that would comprise a PCB sandwich of a dozen challenging layers, including a core antenna module capable of multi-orbit operations? In turn, Phasor Solutions had found the manufacturing nous it needed to move towards productisation.
CUSHIN IMMEDIATELY REDISCOVERED THE JOYS OF A START-UP ENVIRONMENT. “The equity part was interesting,” he says, “but I was more excited by the opportunity to take part in lots of different activities and take the lead on things I wanted to do and just run with them.” He was back to influencing the development of products in a big way and, as it turned out, something equally as intricate and finally balanced: culture. For while Phasor Solutions had gone, along with the architecture of its first prototype, the values of that business live on, exuding qualities that can be summed up as clever, collegial and kind. This is in large measure due to the way that Cushin has recruited. He admits to an instinctive liking for hobbyists, informed by fond memories of fiddling around with Tandy electronic product kits as a kid, bought for him by his RAF radio operator father. What he really likes, however, are “people who share, are willing to learn and people who can work as part of a team.“ That’s hard to tell from an initial interview, he admits, but there are clues in individuals’ communication style: clarity in thought and expression. “Candidates must be smart, with a solid grasp of their speciality, but they must be able to convey what they have worked on themselves and do that clearly and crisply.” Those candidates tend to fit at Hanwha Phasor. Lone rangers and information-huggers need not apply.
Cushin, who remains open-minded after a 30-year career, is firm: “To work here, you cannot be set in your ways. We’re undertaking pioneering, complex work requiring in-depth understanding, collaboration across disciplines and creative problem solving. That’s why I am extremely focused on how our teams work together.” In return for flexibility, Cushin makes room for people to stretch themselves. “There are opportunities here to take part in various aspects of design including system, RF analogue, digital and modelling. We ask people what they want to work on next and think about how to develop a their careers over the next couple of years.”
HE IS AMUSED AT THE MISTAKES OF HIS YOUTH. He describes “layout issues where there was not enough margin in design or the signal integrity was not right, which resulted in errors.” He adds: “Because I have been lucky enough to have been constantly pushing technology boundaries, I know what it is like to do four-corner and environmental testing and watch things start falling apart in random ways!”
Cushin is relaxed about the young people being the most heavily engaged in hands-on design work at Hanwha Phasor. He plays a major part in design reviews so ensures that his team gets the basics right. “An important part of the art of hardware involves following a process,” he explains. “If all your engineers with mixed skillsets are doing that, you will reap the rewards of schematics and layouts which use a common visual language.” This ensures engineers are not talking at cross purposes inside the team; or outside it among the Hanwha Phasor software and test teams; or further afield with its manufacturing partner and suppliers. Another technique arising from extensive experience of reengineering our phased array concerns working on the stack-up before creating mission critical components like antenna modules. “We set out constraints arising from power supply, digital or RF circuits very clearly for the antenna team. You don’t want to model something that you cannot physically implement.”
While there are plenty of fine young, minds at Hanwha Phasor, Cushin points out that the business also attracts senior people who have enjoyed solid careers at long established companies. “Now they want to live dangerously again doing pioneering work and mentoring young engineers. Youth is equally matched with solid experience here,” he says.
Cushin loved the Phasor Solutions days but he would not turn the clock back. There is a time and a place for start-ups, bolding proving out essential concepts at speed. However, as he knew from his 3Com days, to bring product to market the business would have achieve not just a steady flow of dependable financing but a different mindset.
That mindset is where Cushin comes in. He likes things “organised and planned out,” a little like his boards. “At such high frequencies, you must pay careful attention to how things are floor-planned and the routing strategy. The things you can get away with at lower frequencies are unthinkable with our product.” That is why he is enjoying the growing maturity of the Hanwha Phasor business, which is moving through the critical commercial aircraft certification processes and creating the infrastructure to ensure that its engineering and manufacturing partnership with Plexus Corp. runs smoothly.
Cushin takes his work home with him because it gives him pleasure, tinged, as he says, by a healthy level of tension and worry. He is particularly invigorated by the current phase, with greater investment in laboratory facilities and the implementation of ISO management standards. He is always thinking about the balance of skillsets, experience and different cultures within the team who see things from different viewpoints. He knows that team structure is paramount as the company grows.
Cushin is inspired by the potential for our satcom antenna to deliver global connectivity and has become very engaged in the challenge of launching an aerospace-grade product. But what he really likes about Hanwha Phasor, is complexity. Ku band is exciting and difficult for hardware people. IoT and wearable products would just bore him to tears.
For further information on how to future-proof your satcom solution – or work with us – contact us here