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IBM bolsters RF foundry with SOI, SiGe

Posted: 12 Jun 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:SOI? SiGe? RF? GaAs?

IBM also improved the linearity of the transistors, achieving about an 8dB decrease in the third harmonic distortion.

The core team behind 7SW comprised only about 10 people working 18 months. The group has been working on SOI for RF chips since about 2006. For a second source, they use an old IBM fab in France spun off as a separate company called Altis.

In the past, companies such as Skyworks dominated the market for making RF front-end chips using gallium arsenide (GaAs). But today "the industry is going through a big shift," to SiGe and SOI processes, says Sara Mellinger, a 14-year IBM vet who markets the foundry service to wireless customers.

Tower Jazz is one of IBM's biggest competitors here, using SOI for RF chips. CMOS giants such as GlobalFoundries and TSMC are said to be getting into SOI to capture some of the business as well.

7SW is still in qualification, with sample parts shipping to key customers. Volume production is expected next year.

Silicon germanium moves to 90nm

IBM's 9HP is a 90nm SiGe BiCMOS process that can support a 360GHz Fmax and more than 300GHz Ft. That provides the margin needed to handle a wide variety of chips using 60GHz to 80GHz services. The 90nm features sizes support denser designs with power consumption closer to SOI than competing GaAs processes.

Applications include 60GHz WiFi and cellular backhaul chipsets, high-end test gear, optical transceivers, automotive radara small but rapidly growing segmentand aerospace and defence radar.

"This will be a heavily used technology," says David Harame, an IBM fellow who has been working on SiGe since the 1980s when it was used for IBM's server CPUs. "Most SiGe results published to date are for 180nm to 130nm processes" not 90nm, which he claims currently only IBM supports.

9HP has been in development for four years by a 10-person team at IBM. A handful of key clients have had early access to the technology, which IBM expects to have qualified in August.

As with its SOI process, IBM will offer enablement tools such as process development kits for 9HP. The SiGe group also offers custom dielectric add-on modules and millimeter wave tool kits.

"That's not a common offeringyou don't find these things in advanced CMOS or 300 mm wafer fabs," says Harame.

The group claims SiGE is in a growth mode. Sixty-gigahertz backhaul links are on the rise in cellular networks, and automotive radar is seen as one of the next big things for cars.

- Rick Merritt
??EE Times

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