Specialty foundry TowerJazz is ramping a 65nm version of its RF-SOI process on 300mm wafers at Fab 7 in Uozu, Japan. To support the ramp, the company has signed a contract with long-term partner, Soitec, guaranteeing a supply of tens of thousands of 300mm SOI silicon wafers, securing wafer prices for the next years and ensuring supply to its customers, despite a tight SOI wafer market.
Five of TJ’s 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, CEO Russell Ellwanter said in his lead keynote at the SOI Consortium’s 5th International RF-SOI Workshop in Shanghai (spring, 2018). BTW, that was in fact a very inspirational talk about Value Creation, and the importance of treating your suppliers with respect. He credited his company’s close relationship with RF-SOI wafer-supplier Soitec for TJ’s claim to the world’s best linearity.
“We are delighted to see the strong adoption of 300mm RF SOI through this large capacity and supply agreement with TowerJazz to augment our already significant 200mm RF-SOI partnership,” said Soitec CEO Paul Boudre. “TowerJazz was the first foundry to ramp our RFeSI products to high volume production in 200mm and continues as one of the industry leaders in innovation in this exciting RF market with advanced and differentiated offerings.”
According to the TJ press release (you can read it here), with its best in class metrics the TowerJazz 65nm RF-SOI process enables the combination of low insertion loss and high power handling RF switches with options for high-performance low-noise amplifiers as well as digital integration. The process can reduce losses in an RF switch improving battery life and boosting data rates in handsets and IoT terminals.
It’s a high-growth market, to be sure. Market researchers Mobile Experts predict that the mobile RF front-end market will reach $22 billion in 2022 from an estimated $16 billion in 2018. TowerJazz says its breakthrough RF SOI technology continues to support this high-growth market and is well-poised to take advantage of next-generation 5G standards, which will boost data rates and provide further content growth opportunities in the coming years.
Customers are already getting into position. For example, Maxscend (WuXi, China), a provider of RF components and IoT integrated circuits, is ramping in this new technology. “We chose TowerJazz for its advanced technology capabilities and its ability to deliver in high volume while continuously innovating with a strong roadmap. We specifically selected its 300mm 65nm RF SOI platform for our next-generation product line due to its superior performance, enabling low insertion loss and high power handling,” said Maxscend CEO Zhihan Xu.
As longtime ASN readers will know, we’ve been covering the evolutions of TJ’s RF-SOI platforms since the beginning of the decade. It’s worth noting, too, that beyond RF, TowerJazz also offers foundry customers other SOI-based processes, such as the new 0.18μm BCD SOI, a 200V SOI technology platform (announced in 2017, press release here) for motor drivers, industrial tools, electric vehicles and more. The previous generation 0.18μm SOI for automotive power management also offers exceptional area savings and is well-suited for high temperature operation. Back in 2014, here at ASN we did a great interview with TJ SVP Dr. Marco Racanelli about when and why they use SOI – and while processes have advanced, the basic drivers are still there, so it’s a still a good read.
And finally, designers will want to know that the TJ Multi-Project Wafer (MPW) Shuttle Program offers the 65nm RF-SOI process, as well as other SOI-based processes. See the website for scheduling and details.
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.
In what may be a first for the MEMS industry, CEA-Leti has manufactured micro-accelerometers on 300mm wafers, a development that could lead to significantly lower MEMS manufacturing costs. And yes, those 300mm wafers are SOI wafers. These are “thick” SOI wafers, with an insulating BOx (buried oxide) layer of 2µm, and top silicon of 220nm.
The most advanced of Leti’s platforms is its M&NEMS technology based on detection by piezo-resistive silicon nanowires, which reduce sensor size and improve performances of multi-axis sensors. Leti’s inertial-sensor manufacturing concept enables the design and fabrication of combo sensors, such as three-axis accelerometers, three-axis gyroscopes and three-axis magnetometers on the same chip. This is a key component for IoT apps.
Leti’s M&NEMS concept, developed with 200mm technology, is currently being transferred to an industrial partner. Demonstration of this technology on 300mm wafers has shown very promising results.
In addition to lowering costs, manufacturing MEMS with 300mm technology enables 3D integration using MEMS CMOS processes in more advanced nodes than on 200mm, and the use of 3D through-silicon-vias (TSV), which is already available in 300mm technology. (Read the full Leti press release here.)
Global specialty foundry TowerJazz and TowerJazz Panasonic Semiconductor Co. (TPSCo), the leading analog foundry in Japan, have announced breakthrough RF-SOI technology for next-generation 4G LTE smartphones and IoT devices. Through a collaborative effort, TowerJazz and its majority owned subsidiary, TPSCo, have developed a new 300mm RF-SOI process that can reduce losses in an RF switch by as much as 30% relative to current technology, improving battery life and boosting data rates. The technology achieves a record Ron-Coff figure of merit of sub-90fs and is now being sampled to a lead customer. (Read the press release here.)
RF-SOI champion Peregrine Semiconductor has introduced the industry’s first 300mm RF-SOI technology. Dubbed UltraCMOS® 11, it is built on GlobalFoundries’ 130 nm 300mm RF technology platform (read full press release here).
The UltraCMOS 11 platform will be the foundation for Peregrine’s high volume mobile products and SOI products for other applications. It builds on the success of the award-wining UltraCMOS 10 technology platform, also developed and manufactured by GF, and offers unparalleled performance and cost-competitive advantages.
Moving to a 300mm wafer opens the door to new enhancements and advanced features in future generations of the UltraCMOS technology platform, which can leverage GlobalFoundries’ 300 mm production-proven design enablement and manufacturing expertise and scale.
“For over 25 years, Peregrine has been at the forefront of advancing RF SOI technology,” said Jim Cable, CEO of Peregrine Semiconductor (now a Murata company). “That legacy continues with today’s introduction of the UltraCMOS 11 platform, the first RF SOI 300 mm technology platform. By using 300 mm wafers, Peregrine ensures our technology roadmap will continue to be on the leading edge of RF SOI.”