Competition Heats-up in GaN Foundry Services
Recent announcments from the major GaN foundry service providers indicate considerable market interest in these devices.
At last year’s IMS in Atlanta, both TriQuint and Cree rolled out competing GaN foundry services amid strong interest in the high-power RF technology. This year, RFMD took the stage to introduce their own GaN foundry services, which they did in a press conference hosted by Robert Van Buskirk, President of the company’s Multi-Market Products Group. As reported in this month’s cover story, “The New Power Brokers”, interest in GaN devices is being fueled by the high power density and high-temperature operation of these transistors. These characteristics are especially attractive for military applications, which had provided much of the early funding in developing the technology.
Much of the excitement within the RF power component industry stems from the technology’s superior linearity, bandwidth and RF power density. Additionally, GaN is also a 'green' technology enabling higher efficiencies than previously possible, thereby requiring less power consumption to achieve similar performance or superior performance at similar power consumption levels.
The new Foundry Services business unit will leverage the company's gallium arsenide (GaAs) manufacturing capacity and cycle times, as well as a range of new customer services, to drive shorter time-to-market and minimize time between initial wafer order and final delivery. RFMD's GaN manufacturing is interchangeable with its GaAs manufacturing and directly benefits from the scale and demonstrated expertise of RFMD's wafer fabrication capability.
Although the RFMD GaN foundry services is new, the company claims to have a distinct advantage of experience that comes with operating the industry's largest GaAs fabrication facility and has supplied its customers billions of high-reliability, high-quality compound semiconductor based RF components. By utilizing its existing, high-volume manufacturing assets, RFMD hopes to deliver foundry customers GaN technology with predictable, industry-leading reliability and increased uniformity.
RFMD intends to leverage its deep knowledge of semiconductor process models to accurately predict product performance and thereby lower customer development costs by reducing the number of prototype runs necessary to meet customer specifications. Customer support will also benefit from a seasoned Foundry Services support team with first-hand knowledge of foundry customers' expectations and requirements. RFMD's Foundry Services support team combines more than 50 years of foundry services experience, both as foundry customers and foundry suppliers. Additionally, RFMD's Foundry Services support team has implemented a full set of services including simulation models that enable a high probability of initial success and business processes that enable little or no queue time. The RFMD foundry and their Integrated Device Manufacturing (IDM) operations will be completely separate organizations in order to prevent any conflicts of interest and protect foundry customer’s IP.
Meanwhile, leading RF products manufacturer and foundry services provider, TriQuint points to the company’s GaN development work under specific ARL/DARPA contracts and the recent Strategy Analytics report on the commercial GaAs foundry business (foundry report) as indicators of their strong position in this market.
Earlier this month, the company announced that it had been awarded leadership of Phase III of a multi-year gallium nitride (GaN) research and development contract by the Army Research Laboratory (ARL). The contract, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), was awarded based on TriQuint surpassing Phase II goals. TriQuint began execution of the Phase II gallium nitride program (valued at $15.8 million) in 2005 and has achieved major milestones including improved power density, efficiency and device ruggedness. The next phase of the program (valued at $16.5 million) seeks to extend device reliability for 48V operation while increasing operational lifetime and extending performance to cover the high end of contracted frequency ranges. This phase is expected to be completed in two years. The Army Research Lab (ARL) in Adelphi, MD is the contracting agency.
TriQuint has been a leader in gallium nitride research for both defense and civilian applications since 1999. In addition to its military design and manufacturing work, TriQuint has released gallium nitride amplifiers for wireless communications and a wide range of other applications along with offering commercial GaN foundry services beginning in 2008.
The company is working closely with their modeling tools partners (i.e. Agilent and AWR)V to ensure that their customers have timely and robust kits for designs. The foundry design tools and customer support include the recent release of a new design kit with Agilent for their TQPED process. TriQuint's foundry services will initially encompass the frequency range from DC to 18 GHz.
All three foundries (RFMD, TriQuint and Cree) are producing devices from GaN epiwafers grown on SiC substrates. TriQuint is working with its epiwafer supplier IQE to move from 3-inch to 4-inch wafers.
Germany's United Monolithic Semiconductors (UMS) has been working on developing GaN devices in a European collaboration since 2006 and is also looking at a move to 4-inch wafers. Here the military interest is provided by aerospace firm - and part owner of UMS - EADS. Specific processes used by the collaboration are out of bounds to other customers, but UMS still offers GaN foundry services elsewhere to help enhance the technology's overall commercial viability. This European collaboration, led by the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid-State Physics, takes the view that there is room for more than three major GaN players globally.