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RF MEMS in cellphones to pick up steam

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:RF MEMS? smartphone? antenna efficiency?

IHS Inc. has predicted that the radio frequency microelectromechanical system (RF MEMS) market is set to increase by a factor of 200 by 2015. The growth is driven by the use of the device in smartphones, one of which the market research firm has identified is Samsung's Focus Flash�Windows smartphone.

RF MEMS devices such as the WiSpry part can provide a range of benefits in cellphones including the reduction of signal interruptions and dropped calls, faster data transmission rates, and improved design and power efficiency. The Focus Flash has been shipping in the U.S. since November last year. This will pave the way for other cellphones to adopt RF MEMS, causing global sales of such devices to rise to $150 million in 2015, up from just $720,000 last year, noted IHS.


IHS forecasts that the global sales of RF MEMS will rise to $150 million in 2015.

The IHS teardown of the Focus Flash revealed a MEMS-based antenna tuning module labeled A2101 in a die?on?LGA package near the antenna connectors. The tunable impedance match (TIM) device, as WiSpry calls it, consists of a network of inductors combined with WiSpry's CMOS-integrated, digitally�tunable and low?loss MEMS capacitors. The WiSpry single?chip design integrates logic circuits/serial interface for control, on?board high?voltage charge pump and high-voltage MEMS drivers, together with fully encapsulated digital MEMS capacitors on a single chip.

What RF MEMS has to offer
There are multiple direct benefits of using RF MEMS to tune and match the antenna for the network operators, cellphone makers and users.

Beyond mitigating the signal dropout issue because of the death grip, RF MEMS can improve the antenna efficiency in cellphones, which can increase transmission data rates. For example, in the U.S. LTE 4G standard, antenna tuning can boost data rates by as much as 40 percent.

Furthermore, RF MEMS enables cellphones to employ smaller antennas that have the same or greater efficiency than larger ones. This can allow the design of thinner phones.

The improved antenna efficiency also can allow network operators to achieve major savings on the deployment of the new wireless infrastructure, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Beyond reception issues, a major reason why cellphone makers are adopting RF MEMS is their capability to efficiently implement the proliferating number of standards and rising data usage of cellphones.

In conventional cellphone RF architectures used today, multiple standards and functions coexist with multiple RF paths that are set in parallel. This architecture is not adapted to the evolution of mobile handsets, since it raises the number of components, size and cost, as well as the power consumption of mobile handsets. New, reconfigurable architectures are required to increase the functionality of phones while keeping size, cost and power consumption low.

Several options are in development, including antenna tuning and antenna matching, as well as impedance-matching networks for the power amplifier and tunable filters. Antenna tuning and matching, which can be achieved with RF MEMS, is the most popular approach today, as it can provides the most significant improvement in terms of sensitivity.

With its Samsung design win, WiSpry is leading the RF MEMS pack. However, other companies now are targeting this market, including TDK-EPC, Sony, Omron, RFMD and the startups Cavendish-Kinetics and DelfMEMS.

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