Now also on 300mm wafers and headed for 5G and IoT, RF-SOI’s going strong and stronger (>20 billion chips to date) – Part 1 of 2


Soitec, the industry’s leading supplier of SOI wafers recently announced it’s in high-volume manufacturing of a 300mm version of its wildly successful RFeSI line (see press release here).

What’s it all about? FEMs. RF front-end module – aka FEM – chips handle the back-and-forth of signals between the transceiver and the antenna. FEMs built on advanced SOI wafers are found in virtually every smartphone. Until now, the starting SOI wafers for all those RF FEMs were 200mm in diameter. But with demand continuing to increase, and the RF-SOI prospects for 4G/LTE-A (and then 5G) being very bright indeed, the bigger wafers were needed.

(Bear in mind that these RF-SOI wafers are not at all the same kind of wafers used in the RF and analog parts of an FD-SOI SOC. But because there’s still a fair amount of confusion about this, my ASN post, RF-SOI vs. FD-SOI with RF – What’s the difference? from a few months back sorted it out. If you missed it or you’d like a quick refresher, click here to read it.)

So, back to this announcement about the 300mm version of the RFeSI substrates. As the SOI wafer leader, Soitec’s got a lot of proprietary manufacturing technologies, and a boatload of experience with 200mm RF-SOI. High-volume manufacturing of 300mm SOI wafers isn’t new to them, either, since they’ve been doing that for over a decade.

Courtesy: Soitec
Courtesy: Soitec

But latest additions to the line, the advanced RFeSI90 wafers, required some really significant innovations. Soitec teamed up with UCL (you can read about that here) a few years ago on a breakthrough approach to SOI wafers for RF. This has opened the door for new enhancements that enable more highly integrated ICs for 4G/LTE-Advanced communications and the next generation of wireless technologies, including 5G.

20 billion RF-SOI FEMs, and counting

It so happens that the RFeSI 300mm wafer announcement comes just as Soitec reports that they’ve sold over a million 200mm RF-SOI wafers since 2009. Those million RF-SOI wafers have yielded about 20 billion FEMs. That means Soitec’s RF-SOI substrates are now integral in manufacturing antenna switches, antenna tuners, as well as some power amplifiers and WiFi circuits for the smart phone and related mobile markets. In fact they’re used by all the leading RF semiconductor companies to address cost, performance and integration needs for 3G and 4G/LTE mobile wireless.

Soitec_Aspar
Bernard Aspar, SVP Communications & Power BU, Soitec

Bernard Aspar, Sr. VP of Soitec’s Communication & Power Business Unit, is particularly pleased with their RF success. “The widespread use of Soitec’s materials technology in existing 3G and 4G portable communications demonstrates the important role of RF-SOI in high-volume, cost-sensitive applications such as cellular phones, tablets and other fast-growing markets involving mobile internet devices,” he said. “Now the high-volume availability of our newest 300mm RF-SOI offering enables our customers and their customers to continue to deliver higher performance while giving them access to foundries’ larger global production capacities and more manufacturing flexibility.”

200mm grows, too

To be sure, 200mm is still going strong and stronger, so Soitec is also increasing its 200mm production capacity. What’s more, last fall Soitec teamed up on a 200mm wafer manufacturing deal with Shanghai-based Simgui, which uses Soitec’s Smart CutTM technology to produce SOI wafers for its own RF, power and automotive customers in China, as well as manufacturing on an OEM basis for Soitec customers worldwide (read about that here).

Meanwhile, over the past 18 months Soitec has been delivering 300mm RFeSI90 wafer samples for product qualification. They note that key partnerships with fabless semiconductor companies and foundries have been instrumental in achieving the production milestones and outstanding performance levels of Soitec’s new 300mm RF-SOI product. In fact to make sure that customers get the performance they need, last year Soitec engineers even developed a way to predict the performance their wafers would provide (if you missed it, you can read more about that here).

To find out why some of the leading foundries and chipmakers have chosen to go with a 300mm RF-SOI wafer solution, and what’s in the RF-SOI substrate innovation pipeline, click here to read part 2 of this article.

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