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.
RF-SOI substrate guru Jean-Pierre Raskin, whose team at UCL* has driven the technology behind the most advanced wafer substrates for RF applications, has been awarded one of the highest honors in electronics: the prestigious Blondel Medal. The technology he pioneered is now in virtually all the world’s smartphones, and used by just about every RF foundry on the planet.
Dr. Raskin’s team first demonstrated a radical new approach (dubbed “trap rich” at the time) for improving the RF performance of high-resistivity (HR) SOI substrates back in 2003. Teams from UCL and Soitec then worked together on the industrialization, making it commercially available in SOI substrates for RF applications.
ASN readers will recognize this work from a 2013 article Dr. Raskin co-authored, Soitec and UCL Boost the RF Performance of SOI Substrates.
The result was a new wafer substrate Soitec named eSI, for enhanced Signal Integrity, and it’s been wildly successful. In fact Soitec estimates that more than one billion RF devices are produced each quarter using their eSI wafers. It’s been used for 2G, 3G and now 4G and LTE. With the advent of LTE-Advanced (aka LTE-A), 5G and Wi-Fi 802.11.ac (aka Gigabit Wi-Fi), the latest iterations of the Raskin team’s technology are in Soitec’s most advanced eSI90 wafers.
The Blondel Medal is the highest honor awarded by the SEE (the French Society for Electricity, Electronics, IT and Communications Technologies). It recognizes a researcher under 45 years old who has authored works or recorded exceptional achievements that have contributed to the advancement of science in Information and Communication Technology.
*UCL is the Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium. Click here to read more about Dr. Raskin’s research group.