We have been talking about the great era of semiconductor consolidation since 2014 and it continued through 2016. There have been big moves in the industry such as the TriQuint and RFMD merger, Broadcom’s acquistion of Avago and Analog Devices’ acquisition of Hittite. And this year Analog Devices is also merging with Linear Technology—becoming a giant semiconductor player in the wireless and IoT markets.
Another big move was NXP’s acquisition of Freescale, then NXP’s RF power business spun off to become Ampleon. I thought things would slow down after that, but then Qualcomm came along to acquire NXP. And Infineon is acquiring Wolfspeed (formerly Cree) for its GaN technology. With the Chinese government still pumping billions into acquiring semiconductor companies and the pressure for the larger scale to provide low cost products, expect this trend to continue.
GaN has finally become mainstream and competitive with LDMOS in the lower cost commercial markets. A significant GaN milestone was the 36,000 GaN amplifiers that were shipped to Lockheed Martin for its Space Fence radar system. Our August supplement featured this system development which is one of the largest phased arrays and computing centers in the world today. Another milestone was the adoption of GaN in some cellular infrastructure applications. Our February 2017 issue will highlight Ericsson’s progress in this area. GaN is addressing its higher cost with a 6-inch wafer fab coming online at Qorvo, and GaN on Si from MACOM possibly going to 8-inch wafers. Infineon tried to use GaN on Si for RF applications but was blocked by MACOM’s acquisition of the rights in that market. Expect Infineon to beef up Wolfspeed’s fab to compete in the higher volume commercial sectors.
The RF Energy Alliance continued to make progress in reducing the cost of solid-state amplifier technology with a standard, low cost 300 W, 2.45 GHz module with near 70 percent efficiency. The challenge will be mainly cost as the technology works for these applications but is far more expensive than the current solution.
3D packaging and printing for RF applications really took off in 2016. Our February cover story featured 3D packaging research at Leti, where they are creating a new generation of mmWave interposer packages with enhanced electrical and mechanical properties at a reasonable cost.
Our October cover story discussed The MITRE Corporation’s work on a new generation of 3D printing techniques and materials that realize complex geometries for wideband phased array and metamaterial designs using low-cost, commercial desktop printers. They demonstrated the technology by making 3D printed monopole Wi-Fi antennas and are now working on a complex, electrically-functional phased array and metamaterial structure. And our August Fabs and Labs covered the Printed Electronics Research Collaborative at University of Massachusetts Lowell where they are using 3D printers to manufacture frequency selective surfaces, antennas, waveguides, phased arrays and even tunable devices printed on plastic materials.
One of the biggest happenings of the year was on July 14, when the FCC established rules for microwave and mmWave broadband operations above 6 GHz in the U.S. The move effectively quadrupled the amount of radio bandwidth available to the mobile industry and paved the way for future 5G systems. Professor Ted Rappaport of NYU WIRELESS was the first to show that mmWaves were viable for cellular communications with his past urban channel modeling tests, and this year he conducted similar tests in a rural setting showing the viability of line-of-sight and non-line-of-sight transmission of mmWave communications at 73 GHz. NYU WIRELESS used this data to generate the first rural path loss model for mmWave frequencies, demonstrating pretty remarkable distances that can be achieved using mmWaves (near theoretical limits). With 5G mmWave trials happening so quickly, it will be very interesting to see how fast companies can commercialize mmWave technology and bring the cost down to a level that is practical for wide use.
Microwave Journal launched two significant ventures this year. EDI CON USA took place for the first time Sept. 20-22 in Boston, Mass., with a successful event covering RF/microwave, high-speed digital and EMC/EMI design topics. We also launched the first Signal Integrity Journal online covering signal integrity, power integrity and EMC/EMI topics (www.signalintegrityjournal.com). This is the only industry journal available covering these topics that address the needs of the digital design community. We hope everyone had a good year. Happy Holidays!