Booming demand for faster wireless broadband connections is calling for increasingly complex circuitry inside devices such as smartphones and tablets. STMicroelectronics, a global semiconductor leader serving customers across the spectrum of electronics applications, is addressing that demand by perfecting an advanced component process technology specifically optimized to increase performance and reduce the size of the RF (radio frequency) front-end of mobile devices.
In wireless devices, the RF front-end circuit is typically built using individual amplifiers, switches and tuners. As new high-speed standards such as 4G mobile and Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11ac) use multiple frequency bands to increase data throughput, the latest equipment requires additional front-end circuitry. While current 3G phones use up to five frequency bands, the 3GPP 1 standards for next-generation 4G LTE support up to 40 bands. Conventional separate components dramatically increase overall size whereas ST’s new manufacturing process, known as H9SOI_FEM, allows production of complete integrated front-end modules.
This process is an evolution of the H9SOI Silicon-on-Insulator process; a groundbreaking technology introduced by ST in 2008 and subsequently used by customers to produce more than 400 million RF switches for mobile phones and Wi-Fi applications. Building on that experience, ST has optimized H9SOI for creating integrated front-end modules, resulting in today’s announcement of H9SOI_FEM offering the industry’s best figure of merit for antenna switch and antenna tuning devices with Ron x Coff at 207fs2 . ST has also invested to ensure suitable manufacturing capacity for even the most demanding of customers.
From a commercial point of view, smartphones featuring high-speed multi-band wireless are driving booming demand for RF front-end components, particularly as integrated modules. The number of RF devices in a smartphone is roughly three times the number in an entry-level 2G/3G phone, while smartphone shipments are currently over one billion units annually and growing at around 30% according to analysis by Prismark. Additionally OEMs require suppliers to provide smaller, thinner components with higher power efficiency. ST sees opportunities for discrete components, as well as integrated power-amplifier/switch and power-amplifier/switch/tuner modules based on its new best-in-class H9SOI_FEM process.
“The H9SOI_FEM dedicated process enables our customers to develop state of the art front-end modules that are half the size or smaller compared to today’s front-end solutions,” said Flavio Benetti, General Manager of the Mixed Process Division of STMicroelectronics. “Moreover, we have achieved a simplified process flow to enable extremely short overall lead-times and supply flexibility, which are crucial for end customers in this market.”
ST is now ready to start working with customers on new designs using H9SOI_FEM. Volume ramp-up is expected by the end of this year.
Further technical information:
The H9SOI_FEM process is a 0.13µm technology with dual-gate 1.2V and 2.5V MOSFETs. Unlike conventional SOI processes, such as those used for discrete devices like RF switches, H9SOI_FEM supports multiple technologies such as GO1 MOS, GO2 MOS, and optimized NLDMOS. This allows H9SOI_FEM to support full monolithic integration of all key functions of an RF front end, which comprise RF switches, Low Noise Amplifier (LNA), multi-mode multi-band cellular Power Amplifiers (PAs), diplexers, RF coupling, antenna tuning and RF energy-management functions.
GO1 MOS is preferred for very-high-performance LNAs, capable of sustaining very low Noise Figure with 1.4dB @ 5GHz and providing threshold frequency (Ft) of 60GHz permitting 5GHz designs with safety margin.
In addition to GO2 CMOS, GO2 NMOS is widely used with RF switches and enables ST’s process to offer the industry’s best figure of merit for the antenna switch and antenna-tuning devices, with on-resistance x capacitance (Ron x Coff) of 207fs.
GO2 high-voltage MOS allows the integration of PA and energy-management functions. The optimized NLDMOS allows PAs to achieve Ft of 36GHz and efficiency of 60% at saturated low-band GSM power. For energy management, PLDMOS technology with 12V breakdown allows the device to be connected directly to the battery.
The performance of integrated passive components has also been optimized by depositing to three or four aluminum layers and also thick copper when needed.
H9SOI_FEM is suitable both for devices targeting the low end of the market, where low cost and extensive integration are crucial, as well as the high-end smartphone segment. High-end products typically require a combination of many frequency bands to support not only 2G, 3G and 4G standards, but also various other wireless connectivity standards such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS and NFC (Near-Field Communication) for contactless payments.