Innovation with impact: Ee Sze Khoo and her team are the brains behind MediaTek’s transceivers,
found in devices from cellular phones and IoT trackers to TVs
In the world of technology, Ee Sze Khoo is fewer than six degrees of separation away from you.
MediaTek’s RF Design Leader and her team are the brains behind the company’s transceivers, found today in cellular phones, IoT trackers, TVs, set-top boxes, Bluetooth earphones and speakers, and possibly in the device you’re reading this article on – one in three mobile phones is powered by a MediaTek technology or chip.
It’s no surprise then that the world’s fourth largest fabless semiconductor company considers her a high flier, and one whose efforts have been key to MediaTek products that are smaller, consume less power, and that enable numerous new applications for its customers.
Creative escape: Ee Sze (third from the left) at an Escape Room team building exercise with the RF division
Interestingly, Ee Sze’s career in semiconductors began at the research end of IC design – after graduating from Nanyang Technological University with a Bachelors of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE), she spent seven years in research and development at the Institute of Microelectronics (IME).
“Since I was young, I’ve liked solving puzzles and problems,” she says. Working in a research institute gave her a good foundation for what she would later go on to do. “I read journals and conference papers, textbooks and created prototypes. I also got my Master of Engineering from the National University of Singapore in 2002, which I did part time.”
Thus armed, she joined the MediaTek technical team in 2004, just two months after the Taiwan-based fabless semiconductor company set up its Singapore unit. “The original team was very small,” she recalls. “It was after the team grew and we needed local managers that I came to manage a design team of six.” She also became a project leader for a design team focussed on transceivers.
Clearly in her element, Ee Sze went on to pioneer a technique that “linearised” the RF power amplifier used in MediaTek’s first 3G transmitter.
“Signals travel in waves, and waveforms get distorted,” she explains. “When we neaten the distortions, the amount of power consumed, for example in a handphone battery, is minimised, lengthening battery life.”
In 2010, the 3G cellular chip went into mass production, and the technique continues to be used in MediaTek’s 4G/5G transmitters today.
Four years later, in 2014, she and her team received the MediaTek Worldwide Annual Special Contribution Project Award – the company’s top award for designing the company’s first CDMA solution.
Pikachu Power: The mouse-like Pokemon character with powerful electrical abilities provided inspiration for Ee Sze and the RF team at MediaTek’s annual Dinner & Dance 2020
Another of her products, MediaTek’s 2G cellular SOC, which launched seven years ago and for which she was the RF project lead, remains a leader in its product class, unchallenged in terms of both cost and performance.
Problem solving remains central to the work she does today.
“It almost never happens that there are no problems,” she says. “We simulate and take precautions to mitigate them, but there are many things that can disturb a chip, and always paths we haven’t thought of – there will almost certainly be a surprise.”
This ability to spot and solve problems – and anticipating challenges – is a quality she also hones in the young designers that she mentors. “I don’t tell them what to do. Instead, I hint, or ask questions,” she says. “I like to allow them to try out new ideas. If you are too conservative, you will not move forward.
“In our field, we need innovation. And that’s what I encourage.”