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Industry News

Overview of the European Microwave Integrated Circuits Conference

Sector overview by Ali A. Rezazadeh, EuMIC 2011 Conference Chair (In Collaboration with John Atherton, Co-Chair EuMIC 2011)

September 30, 2011
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Semiconductor materials, devices and ICs are essential components of today's microwave and millimetre wave subsystems for many applications, such as telecommunication, defence, automotive, space and imaging systems. These devices and ICs require not only different technological processes, but also advanced modelling, simulation and characterization in order to predict the performance of individual technology and its successful route to exploitation. European microwave companies and research centres produce, develop and are involved in research that covers a broad range of technologies, which play an increasingly significant role in everyday life and open up new opportunities for economic development.

Silicon technologies are steadily improving their operating frequency and their level of integration. In particular, the scaling of Si MOS technology has led to phenomenal growth in transistor density and performance during the past few decades. This growth was primarily driven by traditional device scaling from lithography improvements to power supply scaling.

However, the industry began to experience fundamental barriers at 90 nm in achieving historical performance gains through traditional scaling such as High K material plus metal gate technology. The convergence of new semiconductor transistor structures and materials along with a better fundamental understanding of carrier transport in new materials will be the key to successfully scaling transistors to beyond 10 nm nodes.

GaAs devices for defence applications continue to be the driving force in many of the microwave applications. GaAs remains a key enabling technology in military and defence systems, covering radar, communications, electronic warfare and smart munitions. However, the demand for wider bandwidth, higher frequency and higher power favours emerging technologies, such as GaN and SiC. These devices require higher DC bias voltages and more critically, new designed bias circuitry, as well as modelling and packaging to deal with very high power density in these devices. There is currently dynamic academic research and industrial development in the wideband semiconductor devices sector.

The future of RF/microwave technology will be fundamentally influenced by nanoelectronics, which will provide substantial improvements in the integration of RF electronics, sensing, energy harvesting, computing and communication systems. Driven by technology and market requirements, semiconductor electronics has already found its way into nanoscale dimensions.

Currently, a multitude of research projects based on novel materials and nanoscience concepts are being developed to pave the way for a new generation of nanoelectronic devices and systems, yielding not only higher integration densities but also substantially improved electro-thermal-mechanical properties. Many of the nanoscale materials and devices exhibit their most interesting properties over a broad range of applications and operating frequencies up to the THz region.

Many applications, such as high frequency communication, radar and sensors, require higher system functionality and performance. Driven by commercial applications, however, cost issues become most important. Monolithic integrated circuits based on GaAs and InP materials with high performance are currently available and the requirement for elaborate chip mounting and interconnection technologies has emerged. Due to the relatively high cost per area for GaAs and especially InP based ICs, hybrid integration techniques are currently being considered. In addition, monolithic integrated circuits have to deliver increasing functionality with smaller chip size. These requirements can be fulfilled by multifunctional chips, which integrate different circuit functions or multi-chip modules where different ICs, often with different semiconductors, can be integrated.

These are some of the current and future directions of ICs and semiconductor devices. However, it should be emphasized that advanced simulation and modelling are key factors in achieving the optimum performances of circuits and systems.

EU Flagship Initiative

A coordination action on graphene will be funded by the European Commission to develop plans for a 10-year, €1,000 M Future and Emerging Technology Flagship (FET). This is a large-scale visionary research initiative, aimed at a breakthrough for technological innovation and economic exploitation based on graphene and related two-dimensional materials.

The research effort of individual European research groups pioneered graphene science and technology, but a coordinated European level approach is needed to secure a major role for the EU in this ongoing technological revolution. The Graphene Flagship aims to bring together a large, focused, interdisciplinary European research community, acting as a sustainable incubator of new branches of ICT applications, ensuring that European industries will have a major role in this radical technology shift over the next 10 years. An effective transfer of knowledge and technology to industries will enable product development and production. The pilot phase coordination action started in May 2011 and the Graphene Flagship already includes over 130 research groups, representing 80 academic and industrial partners in 21 European countries.

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