In response to growing demand for faster wireless broadband connections STMicroelectronics is looking to address the demand for more complex circuitry by developing an advanced component process technology that is specifically optimised to increase performance and reduce the size of the RF (radio frequency) front-end of mobile devices.
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 standards for next-generation 4G LTE support up to 40 bands. Conventional separate components tend to dramatically increase the overall size of devices whereas ST’s new manufacturing process, known as H9SOI_FEM, has been developed to allow the production of complete integrated front-end modules.
This process is an evolution of the H9SOI Silicon-on-Insulator process; a 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. ST has optimised H9SOI for creating integrated front-end modules, resulting in the H9SOI_FEM now being able to offer the industry’s best figure of merit for antenna switch and antenna tuning devices with Ron x Coff at 207fs. 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 will enable 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.