Articles about chips built on RF-SOI technology are back in the headlines. What’s driving it? Data – lots of it, and at ever higher speeds, finding its way in and out of your mobile device.
Bear in mind that we’re talking now about RF-SOI, which is not the same thing as RF in FD-SOI. These RF-SOI chips serve front-end module (FEM) functions, and are designed specifically for the special needs of getting a lot of data transmitted wirelessly, often over relatively long distances. They handle the back-and-forth of signals between the transceiver and the antenna. Today it would be practically impossible to find a smartphone that doesn’t have an RF FEM based on RF-SOI wafer technology. And the advent of 4G/LTE/LTE-A (and next, 5G) only serves to drive this market to new heights.
(In a recent ASN post, we explained the differences between RF-SOI and FD-SOI with RF – if you missed it, you can still read it here.)
By way of background, the current RF buzz is aligning with lots of activity on the world standards stage. The ITU (International Telecommunications Union), which sets time lines and processes, has just finished up its Radiocommunication Assembly (RA-15), where it approved the IMT-2020 Resolution, paving the way for 5G mobile systems (press release here). That puts 5G rolling out in 2020. If you’re really going to connect all the things in the big IoT picture, you’re going to need a whole lot more bandwidth.
But in the meantime, driven by video, even the current move from 3G to 4G/LTE-A is massive when it comes to what your mobile device has to handle. FEM designers are working all out to accommodate this, and new generations of SOI substrates are key to making it happen.
Check out this graphic from Cisco’s Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update 2014–2019 White Paper, showing a CAGR of 57% in mobile data through 2019 – so this is in the 4G to LTE-A time frame.
And the just-released Ericsson Mobility Report (get it here) sees a huge increase in M2M (machine-to-machine – an essential of IoT) and consumer cellular and non-cellular hitting the airwaves in the next five years.
So, new solutions are needed, and RF-SOI is at the heart of it. Here’s a quick round-up of important pieces you won’t want to miss.
Just to put it in perspective, getting published in the Microwave Journal is a holy grail for RF engineers. For over 50 years, it’s been the leading RF and microwave technology publication, with all peer-reviewed articles. So for RF-SOI to take center stage there is a blockbuster – it just doesn’t get much better than that. Here are the links:
- RF-SOI: Revolutionizing RF System Design – by Peter Rabbeni et al of GlobalFoundries. This is the cover story. They jump deep into fast-evolving RF technical considerations, then answer the question: “Why RF SOI and Why Now?”
- Engineered Substrates: The Foundation to Meet Current and Future RF Requirements – by Eric Desbonnets and Christophe Didier of Soitec. New generations of SOI wafers, which are “engineered” substrates, are the essential building block of RF-SOI. The authors dive into the interplay between RF substrates and RF chip design.
- A Current-Reused GPS LNA in 0.2 µm RF SOI Technology – by Ruofan Dai et al of HH Grace Semi, Shanghai U. and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The authors describe how their Low Noise Amplifier (LNA) on RF-SOI resolves critical GPS issues.
Semiwiki goes to GF
Industry guru Scotten Jones wrote in semiwiki.com about the key role of RF-SOI in GF’s strategy. This was gleaned from a recent trip to the (ex-IBM) fab in Burlington, VT. His wrap-up, GlobalFoundries Visit – Part 2 – Waking the Sleeping Giant (see it here) provides new insight into just how important RF-SOI is for the company.
The article contains a link to the slide deck of the presentation given to them by the folks at GF. It’s tremendous – if you’re at all interested in RF-SOI, you really should look at it. You can access it directly here.
As recounted in the article, GF’s Burlington fab has shipped more than 18 billion RF-SOI devices since IBM first announced the their RF-SOI process back in 2007. They’ve had more than 1450 tape-outs. The 60,000 wafer/month RF-SOI market is driven by tuner and switch apps. By virtue of putting these apps on SOI rather than using III-V materials, they reduce costs and are able to integrate key logic and control functionality.
(Source: semiwiki.com and GlobalFoundries)
Check out this GF slide showing the massive growth they’re projecting:
And here’s the roadmap that says it all:
(Source: semiwiki.com and GlobalFoundries)
Elsewhere in the news, there have also been a number of new RF-SOI-based products announced. We’ll be expanding on those in the ASN Buzz, so stay tuned!