“GlobalFoundries, TowerJazz, TSMC and UMC are expanding or bringing up RF SOI processes in 300mm fabs in an apparent race to garner the first wave of RF business for 5G, the next-generation wireless standard,” writes Mark Lapedus of Semiconductor Engineering. His recent piece, RF-SOI Wars Begin, explains why demand across the supply chain is currently tight.
Rest assured, the supply situation is being addressed fast. By next year, 300mm-based RF-SOI manufacturing (vs. 200mm) will increase from 5% to 20%. But with insatiable end-user demand for greater throughput, overall RF-SOI device demand is increasing in the double-digit range, so 200mm-based manufacturing is also expanding fast.
SOI wafer manufacturer Soitec has 70% of the RF-SOI wafer market share. The other RF-SOI wafer manufacturers – Shin-Etsu, GlobalWafers and Simgui – all use Soitec’s RF-SOI wafer manufacturing technology.
This is an excellent, comprehensive piece, that clearly explains the complexities of the markets, the devices, the manufacturing and the supply chain. It’s a highly recommended read.
BTW, the SOI Consortium is organizing a 4G/5G SOI supply chain workshop during Semicon West (July ’18). Sign up or get more information on that under the Events tab here on the consortium website.
Of course, here at ASN, we’ve been covering RF-SOI for over a decade. You can use our RF-SOI tag to access most of the pieces we’ve done over the years.
The panel discussion rounding out the day at the recent FD-SOI Forum in Shanghai ended an exciting week (GF’s 12nm FD-SOI & ecosys, Sony’s FD-SOI GPS in the Huami watch) on a decidedly optimistic note. Here’s a quick rundown of some of what was said.
(As soon as the presentations given earlier in the day are posted, we’ll take a quick cruise through those, too.)
Mahesh Tirupattur, EVP at low-power SERDES pioneer Analog Bits started it off with the reminder that for anything “always on” in IoT, FD-SOI’s always better. They had a terrific experience porting their SERDES IP to 28nm FD-SOI (which they detailed last spring – see the ppt here). The port from 28 bulk took 2 1/2 months (vs. to FinFET, which took almost 6). Even without using body bias, they got performance up by around 15% and leakage down by about 30% (he added that with body bias, they could get five times that).
He compared porting to FD-SOI to playing high school ball, vs. a port to FinFET which is like competing in the Olympics. ESD was different, but not a big deal – you just need to “read the manual”. Heating? Nothing an engineer can’t resolve. For IoT, FinFETs are like using a cannon to shoot a mosquito, he quipped.
He later ticked off a few more advantages of FD-SOI for the IoT design community: system cost, lower power – and here’s a particularly interesting observation – cheaper packaging. They were able to do wire bonding, so they were able to package a wearable video app in a plastic capsule. All things considered, FD-SOI offers the perfect solution, he said (and now he’s got silicon with “dramatic results” to prove it), adding that the IP guys need to evangelize this.
GloFo VP Subramani Kengeri took a moment to look back before he looked forward. “FD-SOI is not new,” he reminded us. It was explored and researched for a decade. But at the beginning, CPUs were driving the industry, and everyone else followed suite. But now in mobile and IoT, RF is becoming more important, and what was good for the CPU is no longer what’s good for everything else. He tipped his hat to Soitec, ST and Leti, who “kept the lights on” and kept driving FD-SOI forward. Now with 5G on the horizon, FD-SOI is the enabler, he added.
He also noted that FD-SOI gets you the maximum memory onchip, and that with 12FDX, we’ll be seeing the world’s smallest SRAM. So that opens a new degree of freedom. The EDA partners have been working on automating body bias in the PDK for greater power management. He cites an ARM core with on-demand performance that can be used “intelligently”. Is it complicated? Not really, he says, especially if it’s automated. In fact he sees body bias opening the market for “extraordinary, innovative products” very soon. Key IP is in place. And it’s not just for IoT: aside from high-end CPUs, FD-SOI is optimal for everything. “Everything’s happening now, and it’s moving really fast,” he said.
SOI wafer leader Soitec VP Christophe Maleville was asked if he saw any limit on manufacturing the ultra-thin wafers for the 7nm node. No problem, he said – they can do those wafers with 4nm of strained top silicon and a 10nm layer of insulating BOX. They’ve been working on FD-SOI wafers for over a decade, he reminded us, with Leti, IBM and ST. Back in 2013 when ST announced the Nova-Thor hitting 3GHz (or 1GHz at just 0.6V), everything was in place: the metrology was ready, reliability was controlled.
Today they’ve got a 15nm BOX layer in manufacturing, with no limits in moving to 10nm for customers going for very low power. For the strained top silicon needed for the 7nm node, they spent years working on strain with IBM et al in Albany, so they’re not starting from scratch. That substrate will be mature in just two years, so from a substrate point of view, he said, “7nm is no problem”.
In response to a follow-up question from a well-known analyst in the China tech industry, panel moderator and Verisilicon CEO Wayne Dai said that the design community in China has the skills to do FD-SOI, no problem. He’d like to see more IP, but FD-SOI has powerful advantages in terms of cost, analog/memory and back biasing.
Dai then asked the panelists if they thought we’d be seeing a foundry in China opting for FD-SOI by next year – all but one said yes. One thing all the panelists agreed on, however: they all expect to see FD-SOI products (and lots of them) on the stage at the Shanghai FD-SOI forum in 2017.
12nm FD-SOI has now officially joined the GlobalFoundries’ roadmap, targeting intelligent, connected systems and beating 14/16nm FinFET on performance, power consumption (by 50%!) and cost (see press release here). Customer product tape-outs are expected to begin in the first half of 2019. GloFo also announced FDXcelerator™, an ecosystem designed to give 22FDX™ SoC design a boost and reduce time-to-market for its customers (press release here).
The news turned heads worldwide (hundreds of publications immediately picked up the news) – and especially in China. “We are excited about the GlobalFoundries 12FDX offering and the value it can provide to customers in China,” said Dr. Xi Wang, Director General, Academician of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai Institute of Microsystem and Information Technology. “Extending the FD-SOI roadmap will enable customers in markets such as mobile, IoT, and automotive to leverage the power efficiency and performance benefits of the FDX technologies to create competitive products.”
Wayne Dai, CEO of VeriSilicon (headquartered in Shanghai but designing for the world’s biggest names in the chip biz), added, “We look forward to extending our collaboration with GlobalFoundries on their 12FDX offering and providing high-quality, low-power and cost-effective solutions to our customers for the China market. The unique benefits of FD-SOI technologies enable us to differentiate in the automotive, IoT, mobility, and consumer market segments.”
The ultra-thin FD-SOI wafers are where it all starts, and they’re ready to go in high volume, says Paul Boudre, CEO of SOI wafer leader Soitec. “We are very pleased to see a strong momentum and a very solid adoption from fabless customers in 22FDX offering,” he adds. “Now this new 12FDX offering will further expand FD-SOI market adoption. This is an amazing opportunity for our industry just in time to support a big wave of new mobile and connected applications.”
GloFo’s 12FDXTM platform, which builds on the success of its 22FDXTM offering, is designed to enable the intelligent systems of tomorrow across a range of applications, from mobile computing and 5G connectivity to artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles. Increased integration of intelligent components including wireless (RF) connectivity, non-volatile memory, and power management—all while driving ultra-low power consumption—are key 12FDX selling points that FinFETs can’t touch.
The technology also provides the industry’s widest range of dynamic voltage scaling and unmatched design flexibility via software-controlled transistors—capable of delivering peak performance when and where it is needed, while balancing static and dynamic power for the ultimate in energy efficiency.
“Some applications require the unsurpassed performance of FinFET transistors, but the vast majority of connected devices need high levels of integration and more flexibility for performance and power consumption, at costs FinFET cannot achieve,” said GLOBALFOUNDRIES CEO Sanjay Jha. “Our 22FDX and 12FDX technologies fill a gap in the industry’s roadmap by providing an alternative path for the next generation of connected intelligent systems. And with our FDX platforms, the cost of design is significantly lower, reopening the door for advanced node migration and spurring increased innovation across the ecosystem.”
Kudos came in from G. Dan Hutcheson, CEO of VLSI Research, IBS CEO Handel Jones, Linley Group Founder Linley Gwennap, Dasaradha Gude, CEO of IP/design specialists INVECAS, Leti CEO Marie Semeria and NXP VP Ron Martino (they’ve already started on 28nm FD-SOI for their i.MX line – read his superb explanations in ASN here).
Simultaneously to the 12FDX announcement, GloFo announced the FDXcelerator Partner Program. It creates an open framework under which selected Partners can integrate their products or services into a validated, plug and play catalog of design solutions. This level of integration allows customers to create high performance designs while minimizing development costs through access to a broad set of quality offerings, specific to 22FDX technology. The Partner ecosystem positions members and customers to take advantage of the broad adoption and accelerating growth of the FDX market.
Initial partners of the FDXcelerator Partner Program are: Synopsys (EDA), Cadence (EDA), INVECAS (IP and Design Solutions), VeriSilicon (ASIC), CEA Leti (services), Dreamchip (reference solutions) and Encore Semi (services). These companies have already initiated work to deliver advanced 22FDX SoC solutions and services.
Initial FDXcelerator Partners have committed a set of key offerings to the program, including:
Additional FDXcelerator members will be announced in the following months.
This is part 2 (of 2) of ASN’s coverage of the epic FD-SOI Symposium in San Jose. In part 1 we looked at the exciting developments happening at 28nm (if you missed it, click here to read it now). Here in part 2, we’ll look at 22nm, covering the presentations by GlobalFoundries, ARM, VLSI Research and Sigma Designs. Again, the presentations are now starting to be available on the SOI Consortium website – click here to see them (they’re not all there as of today, though, so keep checking back).
Dan Hutcheson, CEO of VLSI Research, has come around to FD-SOI. His excellent talk, “FD-SOI: Disruptive or Just Another Process” (click here to download it), concluded that FD-SOI is not disruptive – but it’s an enabler of disruption. The disruption is IoT, and it’s going to be a big one. To prepare for his talk, he did an informal survey of designers at a dozen top companies. Here are some of the things he heard:
Some companies are using FinFET for some chips and FD-SOI for others, depending on the market they’re targeting – either way, the technologies will co-exist. FinFETs were generally chosen for high-density chips from large companies with lots of money; FD-SOI by those who have time-to-market constraints, are looking to differentiate their products, appreciate the much lower NRE* costs, and that are going for power, reliability and analog advantages.
People see a future with FD-SOI – it’s not a one-trick process.
The design community is happy to be able to re-use many of their favorite techniques that were lost after the 130nm node.
Top target markets for FD-SOI are (by far) IoT, automotive and low-power, followed by analog/mixed-signal, networks, RF, low-end products, mobile, peripherals, MPU/GPU, image sensors and rad-hard.
Here are a couple of his slides that sum up the technical and business reasons people cited as reasons for going to FD-SOI:
Dan then made a video recapping his San Jose presentation – it’s awesome – click here to see it.
The ballroom packed right out when GloFo VP Subramani Kengeri took the stage to present, “Enabling Next Generation Semiconductor Product Innovations with 22FDXTM.
In terms of energy efficiency, he explained, 0.4V is the minimum energy point for almost any technology – and FD-SOI gets you 0.4V. He then went on to reiterate the features of GloFo’s 22FDXTM Platform, the industry’s first 22nm FD-SOI:
Ultra-lower power with 0.4 volt operation
Software-controlled transistor body-biasing for innovative performance and power optimization
Delivers FinFET-like performance and better energy-efficiency at 28nm-like cost
Integrated RF: reduced system cost, and back-gate feature to reduce RF power up to ~50%
Integrated eNVM and RF enables lowest cost and smallest form-factor
Post-Silicon Tuning/Trimming for Analog/RF, SRAM and Power/Performance optimization
Enables innovative applications across mobile, IoT and RF markets
70% lower power than 28HKMG, 20% smaller die than 28nm bulk planar
Lower die cost than FinFETs
He then gave lots of technical details (the whole presentation is now available for download from the SOI Consortium website – click here to get it). A key point is that FD-SOI will scale to 7nm. Here’s the slide that says it all:
Also, be sure to check out the Cadence presentation when it’s posted – it looks at the solid design methodology now in place.
Following a brief mea culpa acknowledging that ARM had been missing too long from the FD-SOI table, GM of the Physical Design group Will Abbey made it clear that they are now fully onboard. In his talk, “Realize the Potential of FD-SOI”, he said in comparisons between 22nm FD-SOI and 14nm FinFET, they see a lot of space for FD-SOI. Here’s his summary slide:
They are now looking at ways to further optimize back-biasing to decrease total power in block-level implementations. And yes, he said, you’ll get performance that’s close to FinFET.
Fabless innovator Sigma Designs is focused on the connected home (especially smart TV and media connectivity) and IoT. CEO Thinh Tran presented, “Enabling the Digital Connected World with FDSOI” – you can download it here.
If you really want to optimize for power efficiency, use FD-SOI and run at 0.4V, he advised. “I’m very excited about this,” he told the San Jose audience, adding that, “It’s especially good for RF.” Here’s his slide that explains why:
So, it was a great day in San Jose for 22nm and 28nm FD-SOI. Be sure to keep checking back at the SOI Consortium website, as more presentations will become available in the days to come.
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*NRE = non-recurring engineering. In a fabless scenario, there are NRE for IP and design (engineering costs, up-front and royalty-based IP costs), NRE for masks and fabrication (mask costs, wafer prototype lots, tools costs, probe cards, load-boards and other one-time capital expenditures), and NRE for qualifications (ESD, latch-up and other industry-specific qualifications, as in automotives).
From RF-SOI pioneer Peregrine Semi comes a steady stream of new chips and design wins.
Psemi was honored with a 2015 Electronic Products “Product of the Year” award for its UltraCMOS® PE42020 True DC RF switch, the industry’s first and only RF integrated switch to operate from DC (0 Hz) to 8 GHz. (Press release here.)
The #1 take-away message from the recent FD-SOI Symposium in San Jose is that “FD-SOI is the smart path to success”. With presentations echoing that theme by virtually all the major players – including (finally!) ARM – to a packed house, it really was an epic day for the FD-SOI ecosystem. The presentations are now starting to be available on the SOI Consortium website – click here to see them (they’re not all there as of today, though, so keep checking back).
Since there’s so much to cover, we’ll break this into two parts. This is Part 1, focusing on presentations related to some of the exciting products that are hitting the market using 28nm FD-SOI. Part 2 will focus on the terrific presentations related to 22nm FD-SOI. In future posts we’ll get into the details of many of the presentations. But for now, we’ll just hit the highlights.
So back briefly to FD-SOI being smart. (A nice echo to the Soitec FD-SOI wafer manufacturing technology – SmartCutTM – that make it all possible right?) It started with the CEO of Sigma Designs (watch for their first IoT products on FD-SOI coming out soon) quipping, “FD-SOI is the poor man’s FinFET.” To which GlobalFoundries’ VP Kengeri riffed that really, “FD-SOI is the smart man’s FinFET”. And NXP VP Ron Martino, summed it up saying, “FD-SOI is the smart man’s path to success”. Yes!
Samsung now has a strong 28nm FD-SOI tape-out pipeline for 2016, and interest is rising fast, said Kelvin Low, the company’s Sr. Director of Foundry Marketing. His presentation title said it all: “28FDS – Industry’s First Mass-Produced FDSOI Technology for IoT Era, with Single Platform Benefits.” They’ve already done 12 tape-outs, are working on 10 more now for various applications: application processor, networking, STB, game, connectivity,…., and see more coming up fast and for more applications such as MCU, programmable logic, IoT and broader automotive. It is a mature technology, he emphasized, and not a niche technology. The ecosystem is growing, and there’s lots more IP ready. 28nm will be a long-lived node. Here’s the slide that summed up the current production status:
As you see, the production PDK with the RF add-on will be available this summer. Also, don’t miss the presentations by Synopsys (get it here), which has repackaged the key IP from ST for Samsung customers, Leti on back-bias (get it here), Ciena (they were the Nortel’s optical networking group) and ST (it’s chalk-full of great data on FD-SOI for RF and analog).
If you read Ṙon’s terrific posts here on ASN recently, you already know a lot about where he’s coming from. If you missed them, they are absolute must-reads: here’s Part 1 and here’s Part 2. Really – read them as soon as you’re done reading this.
As he noted in his ASN pieces, NXP’s got two important new applications processor lines coming out on 28nm FD-SOI. The latest i.MX 7 series combines ultra-low power (where they’re dynamically leveraging the full range of reverse back biasing – something you can do only with FD-SOI on thin BOX) and performance-on-demand architecture (boosted when and where it’s needed with forward back-biasing). It’s the first general purpose microprocessor family in the industry’s to incorporate both the ARM® Cortex®-A7 and the ARM Cortex-M4 cores (the series includes single and dual A7 core options). The i.MX 8 series targets highly-advanced driver information systems and other multimedia intensive embedded applications. It leverages ARM’s V8-A 64-bit architecture in a 10+ core complex that includes blocks of Cortex-A72s and Cortex-A53s.
In his San Jose presentation, Ron said that FD-SOI is all about smart architecture, integration and differentiating techniques for power efficiency and performance. And the markets for NXP’s i.MX applications processors are all about diversification, in which a significant set of building blocks will be on-chip. The IoT concept requires integration of diverse components, he said, meaning that a different set of attributes will now be leading to success. “28nm FD-SOI offers advantages that allows scaling from small power efficient processors to high performance safety critical processor,” he noted – a key part of the NXP strategy. Why not FinFET? Among other things, it would bump up the cost by 50%. Here are other parts of the comparison he showed:
For NXP, FD-SOI provides the ideal path, leading to extensions of microcontrollers with advanced memory. FD-SOI improves SER* by up to 100x, so it’s an especially good choice when it comes to automotive security. Back-biasing – another big plus – he calls it “critical and compelling”. The icing on the cake? “There’s so much we can do with analog and memory,” he said. “Our engineers are so excited!”
You know how using mapping apps on your smartphone kills your battery? Well now there’s hope. Sony’s getting some super impressive results with their new GPS using 28nm FD-SOI technology. These GPS are operated at 0.6V, and cut power to 10x (!) less than what it was in the previous generation (which was already boasting the industry’s lowest power consumption when it was announced back in 2013).
In San Jose, Sony Senior Manager Kenichi Nakano presented, “Low Power GPS design with RF circuit by the FDSOI 28nm”, proclaiming with a smile, “I love FD-SOI, too!” All the tests are good and the chip is production ready, he said. In fact, they’ve been shipping samples since March.
As of this writing, his presentation is not yet posted. But til it is, if you’re interested in the background of this chip, you can check out the presentation he gave in Tokyo in 2015 here.
SERDES (Serializer/Deserializer) IP is central to many modern SOC designs, providing a high-speed interface for a broad range of applications from storage to display. It’s also used in high-speed data communications, where it’s had a bad rep for pulling a huge amount of power in data centers. But Analog Bits has been revolutionizing SERDES IP by drastically cutting the power. Now, with a port to 28nm FD-SOI, they’re claiming the industry’s lowest power.
In his presentation, “A Case Study of Half Power SERDES in FDSOI”, EVP Mahesh Tirupattur described FD-SOI as a new canvas for chip design engineers. The company designs parts for multiple markets and multiple protocols. When they got a request to port from bulk to 28nm FD-SOI, they did it in record time of just a few months, getting power down to 1/3 with no extra mask steps. Plus, they found designing in FD-SOI to be cheaper and easier than FinFET, which of course implies a faster time to market. “The fabs were very helpful,” he said. “I’m pleased and honored to be part of this ecosystem.”
Listening to a presentation by Stanford professor Boris Murmann gets you a stunning 30,000 foot view of the industry through an amazing analog lens. He’s lead numerous explorations into the far reaches of analog and RF in FD-SOI, and concludes that the technology offers significant benefits toward addressing the needs of: ultra low-power “fog” computing for IoT (it’s the next big thing – see a good Forbes article on it here); densely integrated, low-power analog interfaces; universal radios; and ultra high-speed ADC. Get his symposium presentation, “Mixed-Signal Design Innovations in FD-SOI Technology” here.
So, it was a great day in San Jose for 28nm FD-SOI. Next in part 2, we’ll look at why it was also an epic day for 22nm FD-SOI. Be sure to keep checking back at the SOI Consortium website, as more presentations will become available in the days to come.
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*SER = Soft Error Rates – soft errors occur when alpha or neutron particles hit memory cells and change their state, giving an incorrect read. These particles can either come from cosmic rays, or when radioactive atoms are released into the chips as materials decay.
Registration is open for GlobalFoundries’ technical webinar, “How to Implement an ARM Cortex-A17 Processor in 22FDX 22nm FD-SOI Technology” (click here to go to the registration page). The webinar will cover the optimal steps to successfully implement ARM® Cortex®-A Series* processors using 22FDXTM 22nm FD-SOI technology.
GF Design Enablement Fellow Dr. Joerg Winkler will address:
This webinar will take place April 26, 2016 at10:00 am Pacific Time.
BTW, GF’s already done quite a few 22FDX-related webinars and videos – click here to see the current list.
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* Per ARM, “Cortex-A processors are specifically designed to execute complex functions and applications such as those required by consumer devices like smartphones and tablets. Their performance efficiency is also making them an increasingly popular choice for servers and enterprise applications where large core clusters can be combined for optimal solutions.”
GlobalFoundries recently announced availability of a new set of RF-SOI PDKs for the company’s 7SW SOI technology. GF, which has now delivered more than 20 billion RF-SOI chips for the world’s smartphones, tablets and more, notes that its 7SW SOI technology is optimized for multi-band RF switching in next-generation smartphones. It is also poised to drive innovation in IoT applications.
The new PDKs feature an interoperable co-design flow to help chip designers improve design efficiency and deliver differentiated RF-SOI front-end solutions in increasingly sophisticated mobile devices. (See press release here.) The new PDKs are designed to use with Keysight Technologies’ (formerly Agilent) Advanced Design System (ADS) EDA software, so designers can edit their designs in ADS using a single Si2 OpenAccess database without any interference.
“Our 7SW platform, with superior LNA, switch devices, and trap-rich substrates, offer improved devices reception, interference rejection, and battery life for fewer dropped calls and longer talk time,” said Peter Rabbeni, senior director of RF product marketing and business development at GlobalFoundries. “Our RF-SOI technology has gained significant industry traction for cellular front-end module applications, and the new RFIC interoperability feature will allow us to provide our 7SW customers additional design flexibility with a single PDK.”
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.