Microwave Journal

Focus on EuMIC and an Overview of the Semiconductor/IC Market

October 4, 2007

The European Microwave Integrated Circuits Conference is the successor to the well-known GAAS® Symposium, which was renamed last year and is held under the umbrella of both the European Microwave Association and GAAS Association. The 2007 technical program includes more than 100 technical papers and is made up of contributions from all over the world. In particular the large number of papers submitted from the Far East demonstrates the global importance of this European event.

The papers are distributed over more than 20 sessions all scheduled for Monday and Tuesday of European Microwave Week. A significant number of sessions are planned as joint sessions with the European Microwave Conference and the European Conference on Wireless Technology, demonstrating the strong link between these conferences and allowing participants to get a flavour of the topics presented throughout the week.

The program will be completed by two invited talks in the plenary session, several workshops and short courses. As invited speakers, Robert J. Fontana from Multispectral Solutions Inc. will consider Ultra Wideband Technology from its conception through to current research and development, while Mark Murphy from NXP will discuss current trends related to high power amplifiers for mobile phone base stations. The closing session will repeat the traditional Foundry Round Table Discussions, where selected European and non-European foundries will discuss trends and emerging technologies in the area of microwave and mm-wave integrated circuits.

The complete EuMIC Conference Session Timetable can be viewed at: www.eumweek.com/pdf/Sessions_Matrix.pdf.

Technology Perspective

Klaus Beilenhoff’s overview of European semiconductor/IC development

Compound semiconductor devices and ICs are building the core of today's microwave and mm-wave subsystems. Whereas in the past GaAs was viewed as the workhorse for many applications ranging from telecommunication to defence, Si-based and new emerging high power technologies are gaining ground and attempting to take market share. However, this statement needs to be quantified for the individual microwave and mm-wave markets.

The GaAs semiconductor industry remains the main supplier of active components and ICs for the wireless telecommunications market. However, business conditions are tough and the industry is still suffering from a volatile market after the telecom crisis in 2000/2001. Consolidations (e.g. Nokia/Siemens, Alcatel/Lucent) driven by cost reduction plans are demonstrating the continuous price pressure faced by the market. The component and MMIC manufacturers are also in a difficult situation since the worldwide capacity for manufacturing III-V compound semiconductors is higher than the demand, creating additional price pressures.

It is not only price that is driving the telecom market. Technical innovations have led to new challenges too. Mark Murphy from NXP, one of the keynote speakers in this year's EuMIC (mentioned above), says in his presentation abstract: "The cellular wireless (base station) industry is at a key phase in its evolution path from today's third-generation systems towards next generation (4G) systems. New technologies are required to achieve data throughputs in excess of 100 Mbps." Ultra Wideband technology is another area of technical innovation. Although invented in 1950 it is still on its way to becoming a standard, but more and more component and IC designs for this market are appearing, mainly based on Si-based technologies.

The market for III-V compound semiconductors in the defence domain is increasing following the start of real volume production of modern active phased array radar technology in Europe. However, the price pressure seen by the telecom market is also appearing in the defence domain and, thus, there is a trend towards the use of commercially available products and technologies (COTS). Nevertheless, the speed of innovation exhibited by commercial markets is often a stumbling block for utilising such products in long-term defence programmes.

There is also a strong market increase in the automotive sector. The 77 GHz radars used for adaptive cruise control are still important, but the emerging 24 GHz short-range radar applications have taken the lead. This can mainly be attributed to the fact that new safety features can be introduced leading to better market acceptance. Due to the high number of microwave systems forecast and the good history of Si-based components and ICs, the Si-based technologies (SiGe, CMOS, BiCMOS, etc.) are constantly attempting to enter these emerging 24 and 77 GHz markets. However, GaAs can still compete and is the benchmark in terms of performance.

As has been mentioned, the typical GaAs market is facing competition in the low frequency and low power domain from Si-based components and ICs. The rising star for power applications is Gallium Nitride. Many semiconductor manufacturers are working on this new wide band gap material and aiming to get the first products to market, while research labs are still working on some fundamental questions. The pressure felt from the base station and defence markets is significant since Gallium Nitride makes it possible to achieve higher output powers over a wider frequency range at excellent power added efficiency (PAE).

We are also seeing an increasing demand for packaging of monolithic microwave and mm-wave ICs (MMIC) in order to reduce module manufacturing costs by implementing SMD technologies for frequencies up to 30 to 40 GHz. Even beyond this limit, packaging becomes more and more important since the module manufacturing costs (die pick and place, soldering/gluing, bond wiring, module sealing) are tremendous especially for price sensitive markets.