As you may have read in the first part of this series, Soitec (the industry’s leading supplier of SOI wafers) says its 200mm RF-SOI wafers have been used to produce over 20 billion chips, and the company is now in high-volume manufacturing of a 300mm version of its wildly successful RFeSI line (see press release here).
So far it’s been all about RF front-end module – aka FEM – chips that handle the back-and-forth of signals between the transceiver and the antenna, originally in 2G and 3G phones. For 4G/LTE-A (and 5G when that hits), there were new wafer innovations – and now 300mm wafers.
The newest RF-SOI wafers, Soitec’s RFeSI90 series (available in both 200mm and 300mm diameters), offer higher levels of performance such as better uniformity, which chip designers need to achieve greater control of transistor matching in analog designs. Plus with the new wafers designers can use thinner transistors and additional process options to improve RonCoff performance, the figure of merit that’s used to rate the performance of an RF switch. For Soitec customers (and really, anyone doing FEMs these days is a customer), all these advances plus the large supply of 200mm and 300mm wafers means that they can expand their production capacities for RF-SOI devices and produce more highly integrated ICs.
GlobalFoundries, for example, sang the praises of 300mm wafers for RF-SOI at a recent SOI Consortium forum in Tokyo. Here’s a slide from Peter Rabbeni’s talk, (he’s GloFo’s Sr. Director RF Product Marketing and Biz Dev), RFSOI: Defining the RF-Digital Boundary for 5G (you can get the full presentation here):
As you see in the slide above, RF-SOI champion Peregrine Semiconductor introduced the industry’s first 300mm RF-SOI technology – that was back in July 2015. Dubbed UltraCMOS® 11, it’s built on GlobalFoundries’ 130 nm 300mm RF technology platform (read about it here).
Looking forward, GF’s Rabbeni noted, “Significant R&D has been done in evaluating the application of SOI to 5G architectures, with very positive results. SOI holds great promise in delivering on the key requirements of 5G systems.”
Also at the Tokyo event, Kenji Tateiwa, General Manager of R&D Strategic Planning for TPSCo (that’s TowerJazz/Panasonic), gave a great presentation on 300mm RFSOI Development toward IoT Era. 300mm RF-SOI, he noted, “has room to run.”
European Program Pushes Innovation Pipeline
For Soitec, of course, work on future generations of RF-SOI substrates continues unabated. You can be sure they’ve got a product roadmap focused on continued innovation and cost effectiveness for future mobile communication markets.
But in addition to working on its RF-SOI roadmap internally, Soitec is leading an international program to further develop the technology in collaboration with 16 partners from five European countries, representing the entire electronics value chain from raw materials to finished communication products. The REFERENCE Project, awarded in a call for projects by the Electronic Components and Systems for European Leadership (ECSEL) group ─ aims to create a European competitive industrial ecosystem based on RF-SOI.
Over the next three years, the REFERENCE Project expects to innovate new materials, engineered substrates, processes, design, metrology and system integration that pave the way for 5G wireless communications. The R&D and demonstration objectives for 4G+/5G technologies include Soitec’s development of RF-SOI substrates, and the production of RF-SOI devices at two major European semiconductor foundries. These advances will contribute to RF-SOI’s growing use in three targeted applications: cellular communications/the Internet of Things (IoT), automotive and aeronautics , including pioneering new frequency bands.
“Soitec is at the forefront of European innovation and we are very happy to be part of this very important European research project involving key partners beyond our direct customers,” said Nelly Kernevez, partnership director at Soitec. “This initiative allows us to build the European Union’s RF community, consolidate our vision of what the future can be, and leverage proven material technology to create RF communication solutions for tomorrow.”
The wireless world will keep progressing by leaps and bounds over the next few years. And it’s looking like ever-advancing RF-SOI substrates will be the springboard. Stay tuned!