As has been much publicised, 2006 heralds the inauguration of the European Microwave Integrated Circuits Conference, which carries on from the highly successful GAAS® symposia. The GAAS Association and the European Microwave Association have worked together to produce a conference that maintains the excellent traditions of the former GAAS symposia but is organised cohesively together with the other conferences within European Microwave Week. As the name suggests this conference will focus on all monolithic microwave integrated circuits whether they are fabricated using silicon, silicon germanium, gallium arsenide, gallium nitride or any other semiconductor material.

The global involvement and interest in the subjects covered is illustrated by the fact that the technical program, which consists of 85 papers, selected from 189 that were submitted, represents the work of over 20 countries. Industry and academia participate side by side, which is demonstrated by the three invited speakers at the plenary session which has a definite industrial applications focus.

There are also focussed sessions on: Characterisation and modelling of microwave power amplifiers within TARGET; MOSFET compact models for RF/microwave applications; Advanced technology for transceive modules; and Devices and circuits for 100 GHz and beyond, together with a rejuvenated Panel Session on the Future of the GAAS foundry business. Alongside these technical sessions there is a selection of workshops and a short course, including the ever popular one-day event on the Fundamentals of microwave power amplifier design. There are also half-day workshops on SiGe:C HBT: Device, technology and application; RF materials and devices; Circuit-level linearization techniques; and Non-linear device noise models and low phase-noise oscillator design.


Steve Marsh looks to the future

Microwave integrated circuits are moving at a pace, so let me try to identify some of the major developments in this field, particularly in Europe. In terms of the semiconductor technology itself, we can expect to see silicon RFICs with SiGe transistors continuing to eat into the traditional GaAs MMIC market place but there is also an interesting counterpoint beginning to develop. In January Freescale Semiconductor Inc. announced that they had produced complete MOSFET transistors. This may just be a small step but both The Semiconductor Research Corp. and the computer processor giant Intel Corp. are actively trying to develop digital CMOS capabilities based on III-V compound semiconductors. When they succeed, GaAs microprocessors, memory and amplifiers will be fighting their way back into wireless systems and producing, for all we know, GaAs-only mobile phones!

Gallium nitride seems to be the other semiconductor technology generating a lot of interest within Europe. There are several large consortia working on this wide bandgap material, some funded by their own governments and others brought together under the European Commissions’ Network of Excellence programmes. These large consortia are now working with extremely good quality material and we are just beginning to see an explosion of publications on GaN MMICs. Their impact on microwave and millimetre-wave power amplifiers for handsets and WLAN will obviously be huge but we may even see GaN chips taking over from LDMOS in base stations as well.

In terms of the businesses attending EuMIC such as the chip foundries and independent design houses, we are just coming to the end of a phase of MMIC capacity contraction and restructuring. The ITAR export restrictions have given the European businesses a small boost as the rest of the world seeks to obtain replacements for US chips in their developing systems from established European sources. The restrictions have also helped to accelerate the investment and development of semiconductor foundries within Asia, and as we see more and more facilities developed in India, Malaysia, Korea and China it will not be long before Asia’s capacity will outstrip both Europe and the US. It’s just as well then that the European Commission’s NoEs are achieving their targets of grouping European business into pan-European partnerships so they can compete within this changing market.

In terms of growing applications for MMICs, we are seeing resurgence in activity in mm-wave and terahertz technology for several security system applications. Integration is a key driver to bring down system costs if they are ever to become commercial realities. One example is the need for multiplier and mixer functions on a single MMIC at 90 to 270 GHz, which may be possible sooner than expected with foundries favouring MHEMT as the way forward for InP MMIC progression.