Let’s celebrate! As of April/May 2020, Advanced Substrate News – or ASN for short, and now aka the SOI Consortium newsletter – has been bringing you news for 15 years. I hope you’ll forgive me if this post has a personal angle, as I have been the Editor-in-Chief since Day 1 back in 2005.
One of the things I’ve learned over my career covering technology in general and SOI in particular is that “new” technologies are never really new. They don’t pop out fully formed like Venus Boticelli-style. They take years – decades, even. SOI is no exception. What is exceptional about SOI imho is that the ecosystem – from the substrate providers to the end-product designers – keeps finding new things to do with it.
There have always been naysayers – and for a while it took on an quasi-fanatic ferocity. There were those who quipped that SOI was the technology of the future…and always would be. But as it turns out, SOI’s is, has been and will be the right technology at many right moments, and I don’t see any sign of that changing in the years to come.
As so much in the SOI story, ASN began with Soitec. I first encountered Soitec when I was working as Contributing Editor in Europe for Semiconductor International in the mid 1990’s. It was a start-up of just a few people that made silicon-on-insulator aka SOI wafers. Most of us at the time had barely a notion of what that was all about, but they had an intriguing story to tell about higher performance and lower power. It so happened a few years later (circa 2000) I was also writing for another publication called Design News – not about chip design, but product design, for folks designing cars and consumer electronics and washing machines and such. I kept hearing a new requirement added to the product-design mantra of faster-smaller-cheaper: lower power. It seemed to me that these SOI wafers could go a long way in solving some of product designers’ challenges. I pitched a story to my editor and it wound up on the cover (those were the days some might remember when trade magazines were on paper…). The big players were IBM for digital (in a current-events aside, DKY that those big iron machines at the US national labs cranking on the solutions for the current pandemic use IBM FinFET-on-SOI chips? Just saying…), Philips (now NXP) for power/analog, and Soitec for wafers – and of course Honeywell for aerospace and the big electronics players in Japan for all sorts of things automotive and ultra-low power.
Top management at Soitec read the piece and saw that I “got it”. They brought me on board as a consultant, writing early websites, PR, brochures and such. But also most importantly, they invited me “in” – I sat in on sales reviews and attended the big shin-digs they sponsored on the Riviera and in the Alps. The people I met there – and stayed in touch with – were many of the ones that drive the industry today. (Of course, that was then, this is now: I don’t have that insider status any more, but I’ve kept in touch with and often still rely on the expert advice of people I met during that heady time.)
Anyway, one day at the end of 2004, the Soitec folks said to me, “We need a newsletter.” They asked me to come up with a concept they could pitch to the Board. Since Soitec was also doing GaN & SiC at the time, I thought it should be called Advanced Substrate News – ASN for short. And we agreed it should involve the entire ecosystem: end users, equipment manufacturers, academics, suppliers of all sorts, and especially: chip designers. But it was not an easy pitch. Who’d want to read about SOI wafers, they asked? Wouldn’t we run out of things to say after two or at most three editions? But the idea was a solid one: ASN could be a bully pulpit for the nascent SOI ecosystem. Happily it won the day.
I was named Editor-in-Chief, and have held that title ever since. Our very first edition (we were a print quarterly then) had about a dozen articles on SOI, including automotive with Philips, ultra-low power FD-SOI with Oki for Casio’s G-Shock watches (oh yes – it goes back a long ways!), low-power (by a company that Arm then bought), high-performance, high-resistivity SOI wafers for RF…it was all there. And if you look at what we cover now, it’s still all there – albeit better than ever and growing fast. (I just listened to the most recent Soitec Q4’20 quarterly financial report audiocast – announcing that they’d just had their best quarter ever – largely driven by RF-SOI.)
In 2007, the SOI Consortium was created with 19 members (a dozen of whom are still members today). As ASN Editor-in-Chief, I was honored to be part of that effort, participating in the meetings where we hashed out what it was all about and what a consortium would do. It was a great opportunity to meet the movers and shakers across the industry, many of whom I’m still in touch with.
We published steadily, as the years, technologies and applications came and some went, but ASN readership continued to grow worldwide. Then in 2015, I got an email from the head of the Shanghai Academy of Sciences, which had recently spun off an SOI wafer maker called Simgui. He was (and is!) an ASN reader (though now he’s China’s Vice-Minister of Science & Technology). Would I come to Shanghai and present some of the SOI-based applications ASN had been covering to his team there? They’d been working on SOI in parallel for many years, and were interested in where it was going in Europe and America. That was exciting! My first trip (of many, now) to China, it coincided with Semicon China 2015 and the announcement of the “Big Fund”. It was hall upon massive hall of stands immense and tiny, and the level of excitement was nothing short of amazing. (I was one of the only Western journalists there, and essentially broke the story in a piece I wrote for Consortium member Applied Materials’ customer magazine). That trip opened a lot of doors for me and ASN. As the SOI Consortium teamed up to with partners in China to host symposia there, we devoted more and more extensive coverage in ASN to those exciting events.
Eventually in 2016, ASN moved under the aegis of the SOI Consortium. We’re quite a jolly band that I have the privilege of working with. Granted at the time of this writing, the world is a difficult place, with so much uncertainty. But there are exciting times ahead with new products and technologies enabled by SOI, and you can be sure we’ll be covering them. RF-SOI will continue its juggernaut path in 5G & mmWave. FD-SOI is steadily defining the new mainstream at the edge. The huge amounts of data the world is generating is driving photonics (which is all about SOI) to new heights. SOI for power (meaning high-voltage – think smart power) and imagers continues to grow.
I’m honored to have brought you ASN for the last 15 years. Our archives are truly a treasure trove, and our mailing list of over 2500 really is an industry who’s who. We’ve published well over a thousand (!) pieces in that time, most of which I’ve written with guidance from many an expert. However, we of course encourage our readers to pitch stories and/or submit SOI articles for publication consideration – so please, don’t hesitate!
I want to thank you all for your interest and your continued support. And thank you especially to all the SOI experts out there who so generously – and so patiently – share their time and enthusiasm with me and our readers. Stay safe!
With warm regards,
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