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Cambridge’s new fabless chip maker in £1.5m funding for redesigning radio




Forefront RF, a fabless semiconductor company, has achieved a £1.5m first funding round for its technology, which enables a smartphone’s receiver to ‘hear’ the weakest signals while transmitting at full power.

Julian Hildersley, left, and Leo Laughlin founded Forefront RF in 2020
Julian Hildersley, left, and Leo Laughlin founded Forefront RF in 2020

Forefront RF’s game-changing Adaptive Passive Cancellation technology is installed on a chip which redesigns the radio frequency (RF) system in wireless products such as smartphones, wearables and IoT devices.

The Forefront RF chip enables connected devices to operate across the increasingly wide range of 3G to 6G mobile telephony frequency bands.

The initial investment comes from a strong syndicate led by Science Creates Ventures and includes Foresight Williams Technology, BGF and investors from Cambridge Angels. It “will enable Forefront RF to recruit the world-class team to accelerate the launch of its products”.

Forefront RF was founded in 2020 by Dr Leo Laughlin and Julian Hildersley, with CSR co-founder Phil O’Donovan on board as company chairman. It is based at St John’s Innovation Centre.

Dr Laughlin said: “The growth in mobile networks driven by the ever-increasing demand for data means that available frequency bands vary from region to region and, using today’s technology, has driven the need for region-specific smartphone variants each including multiple RF components. The space consumed within each smartphone adds cost and leads to supply chain inefficiencies.”

Forefront RF will retain control of the production and licensing of its chips
Forefront RF will retain control of the production and licensing of its chips

Adaptive Passive Cancellation technology is similar to that used in noise-cancelling headphones. Forefront RF’s APC chip replaces the banks of RF filters and switches with a low-cost, tuneable RF circuit. The component uses embedded software to maintain the accuracy of unique passive self-interference cancellation circuits. This enables a smartphone’s receiver to “hear” the weakest signals while transmitting at full power.

Phil O’Donovan said: “I met Leo Laughlin at Bristol University in 2019 and 2020 whilst lecturing on the entrepreneurial courses run by the QTEC Centre at Bristol University.

“Leo’s ideas were informed by his PhD and post-doctoral research work at the university and it was clear then that he had the ambition necessary to found and grow a segment-leading world-class company.

“I became an investor in Forefront RF in 2020 together with a number of Cambridge Angels and assumed the position of non-executive chairman in the second quarter of 2021.”

Cambridge Angels, a networking group of angel investors, doesn’t invest as an organisation, though most of the “10-plus” individual investors in Forefront RF in this finance round were members of the group of high-net-worth individuals.

Phil O'Donovan, chairman of Forefront RF
Phil O'Donovan, chairman of Forefront RF

The Forefront game plan will see it retain the manufacturing capability to produce its own chips.

Mr O’Donovan added: “Forefront RF is following Cambridge-based CSR in that it also uses the well-proven fabless semiconductor manufacturing model where its chip products are manufactured by mass manufacturing silicon foundries, mostly in Asia, who will drop-ship the chip bearing Forefront RF’s logo to consumer product manufacturers around the world. The company’s prime target customers will include the smartphone manufacturers as well as their module suppliers.

“Forefront RF will embed its intellectual property in the design of its chip products and will not license any of its intellectual property to third parties.

“There is much work to be done in scaling up the company. We are set on the path to become the Cambridge-based market leader for the supply of radio frequency front-end chips. Forefront RF is recruiting for our multi-talented team, creating career shaping roles to drive our collective ambition forwards.”



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