Does China Mobile Care About RF-SOI for 5G? Oh Yes.


China Mobile is the world’s largest* telco. So when Danni Song, one of the company’s high-level project managers presented at the SOI Consortium’s 5th International RF-SOI Workshop in Shanghai, you can bet people listened. With each new slide, a glowing sea of cell phone cameras rose over the heads of the audience in the huge, packed ballroom.

(Photo courtesy: SOI Consortium, Simgui)

Over the last month, there’s been a lot more coverage of 5G in the press (especially after the recent Mobile World Congress (MWC) – check out Junko Yoshida’s EETimes piece for example). For ASN readers who want to know more about 5G and RF-SOI in China, here’s a reminder that Song’s presentation, and many of the others given by leading companies at the RF-SOI Workshop last fall, are now posted on and freely available the Consortium website Events page. Click here for the listing and links.

The theme of the workshop was IoT, mobile, 5G connectivity, and mmW. As Dr. Xi Wang, Director General of SIMIT/CAS (the Shanghai Institute of Microsystem & Information Technology in the Chinese Academy of Sciences), said in his opening keynote, China is strong in RF-SOI. RF-SOI will be growing at a CAGR of over 15% for the next five years, and China has production, design, wafer manufacturing and good momentum. “We will make a great contribution to the whole IC industry,” he predicted.

Of note, too, Russell Ellwanter, CEO of TowerJazz, gave what turned out to be a very inspirational keynote about Value Creation, and the importance of treating your suppliers with respect. He credits his company’s close relationship with RF-SOI wafer-supplier Soitec for TJ’s claim to the world’s best linearity. Five of their seven fabs do RF-SOI. LNA (low-noise amplifers) are a big market driver, and with RF-SOI they can integrate the LNA with the switch.

Here are some more highlights from the day – but by all means check out the presentations for details. (You can click on the illustrations to see them in full screen.)

China Mobile

In her presentation, Embrace a Brand New Cooperation in 5G Era, Song asked where RF-SOI could help in her wish list. Could it increase integration and decrease cost and power consumption? Can it help improve NB-IoT device performance? The supply chain needs to come back around into a circle, so that the telcos are connected to and get insights from the wafer substrate providers, she said.

(Courtesy: China Mobile, SOI Consortium)

China Mobile has a 5G Innovation Center, and has established test labs in 8 cities. And the government has announced a 5G launch in 2020, with pre-commercial trials now going into 20 cities. So she was at the RF-SOI Workshop as much to listen and learn as to share China Mobile’s vision.

Sony

(Courtesy: SOI Consortium and Sony)

The presentation by Kidetoshi Kawasaki, GM of Sony Semiconductor Solutions, focused on antenna tuning, which he said is one of the fastest growing things in cell phones. Antenna Tuning Progress & SOI Single Chip Integration for 4G/5G UE (note that UE = user equipment) looks at antenna aggregation, and why it is important for carrier aggregation (CA) and MIMO. Sony has developed an SOI-based next-gen process for 5G integrating passive components. That’s why RF-SOI is important and will be continued to be used in the mobile market, he said.

GlobalFoundries

GF has developed demo vehicles to help customers, said Sr. Director of the RF Business Unit, Peter Rabbeni. (Over the years they’ve shipped over 32 billion RF-SOI devices, btw.) In his presentation, RF-SOI: Delivering Performance & Integration for the Next Generation of Mobile,he noted that RF is becoming more complex than digital. As a result there is a need to integrate to help reduce cost: this is a direct correlation to the standards that are driving complexity. At the same time, performance requirements are increasing, so the challenge is driving increased performance at the same or lower cost than previous generations of products.

(Courtesy: GlobalFoundries and SOI Consortium)

To meet 4G/LTE and 5G’s evolving performance demands, GF has recently introduced two new RF-SOI platforms, which he detailed in the presentation. 8SW enables increased integration of front-end modules (FEMs), while 45RFSOI is for mmWave FEMs. (In a separate presentation, IDDO-IC CEO Denis Masliah presented a Differential Complementary Millimeter Wave Power Amplifier for 5G using 45RFSOI process, which is currently being fabbed by GF.)

RF-SOI Wafer Suppliers

The two leading RF-SOI wafer suppliers, Soitec and partner Simgui, both gave excellent presentations. Though Soitec EVP Bernard Aspar’s presentation Engineered Substrates as Foundation of Innovation in RF is not posted, he made some important points. Up til now, RF-SOI has mainly been about switches and tuners, he said, but there are other opportunities that offer the potential for huge growth. The full supply chain needs to be prepared, he said, and suppliers need to understand each other. Each technology requires the right substrate – and even as we move into sub-6GHz 5G, there is still work to be done in 4G. In fact Soitec is now offering services to help customers better understand new substrate options.

(Courtesy: Simgui, SOI Consortium)

Soitec’s partner in China, Simgui, now uses Soitec’s Smart CutTM technology for RF-SOI wafer production. Together the two are now producing over a million 200mm RF-SOI wafers/year, said Simgui Sr. Director, Kerui Wang. His presentation, RF-SOI – a Secured Substrate Supply Chain, looked at their strategic partnership with Soitec, wherein they use the same tools and processes to deliver the same products meeting the same specs.

Fabs and Fabless

Two leading fabless companies – RDA Microelectronics (which was acquired by Spreadtrum) and SmarterMicro also presented their RF-SOI activities. Although their ppts are not posted, here are a few highlights.

Longtime ASN readers will recall that RDA has been shipping high-volume, RF-SOI based chips to Samsung and others for over five years. In the presentation, RF-SOI in Current and Future RFFE Solutions, Engineering AVP Joseph Jia said that over last two years alone they’ve released almost 50 RFFE (front end) chips on RF-SOI. They see RF-SOI as the right match for switches, tuners and NB-IoT because of the low-voltage and tunability advantages.

SmarterMicro’s CTO, Peter Li, sees RF-SOI as a cornerstone of 5G. In his presentation, Reconfigurable RFFE in 5G, he said the goal is smart systems on fewer dies to decrease size and cost.

Jeff Zhu, assistant director at SMIC, presented SMIC, 0.13um RF-SOI Platform Updates. Mainland China’s largest foundry has recently moved its RF-SOI process from 180 to 130um, and he walked us through some chip designs.

Throughout the day, presenters noted that RF is a great opportunity for China to take a leadership position. As one panelist at the end of the day noted, RF depends more on expertise and talent than digital, which depends more on manpower.

Nanjing: A China RF Capital

Just before the Shanghai events, there was a 2-day event sponsored by the City of Nanjing, co-organized by SOI Industry Consortium and the City of Nanjing. Over 200 participants attended the workshop and tutorials on SOI applications, SoC development and manufacturing, EDA & IP ecosystem, as well as a design tutorial for More than Moore SOI ecosystem. Almost all of those presentations are now posted on the Consortium – click here to get them.

Some of the participants in the SOI Consortium’s delegation also had the opportunity to visit the enormous Nanjing Sofware Park. Nanjing, we learned, is often considered China’s “RF capital”. The list of the world’s major RF players working in partnership there is certainly an international who’s who.

So, lots of good RF-SOI/5G info on the SOI Consortium website – check it out!

~ ~ ~

*in terms of market value and subscribers.