According to a new study from ABI Research, 2008 will be the take-off year for Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) in the mobile phone, as the technology's small size, flexibility and performance advantages become big drawcards, critical to enabling the adaptive, multifunction handsets of the future.

MEMS technology for consumer markets has been discussed for at least ten years, says principal analyst Alan Varghese: "The traditional challenges for MEMS related to the difficulty of reliably manufacturing components at high volumes, effective packaging techniques, long-term device reliability, technology cost, nd supply chain robustness, all of which had a damping effect on the industry. However, the MEMS industry has been addressing these concerns, and innovative solutions are being offered in high volume markets such as mobile phones and consumer devices."

MEMS finds five major application areas in the mobile phone: in RF filters, adaptive tuning circuits, resonators and oscillators, audio microphones, accelerometers and motion sensors. The only remaining challenge is their cost compared to incumbent solutions, but as volumes pick up for MEMS components in these newer markets, there will be a concomitant decrease in cost.

A number of MEMS vendors are conspicuous for their innovation. ABI Research notes WiSpry as a MEMS company to watch: its focus is on developing MEMS-based RF capacitors, tunable filters, duplexers and RF switches to enable the adaptive RF front-end for the multi-band, multi-standard handsets of the future. Another innovative company in this space is XCOM Wireless, where the primary focus is on making the front end of the mobile phone as agile and tunable as a software radio. Avago Technologies' FBAR filters, which employ a form of MEMS technology, have enjoyed considerable success in the RF filtering stages of the higher frequency bands for cellular. MEMS vendors such as Discera and SiTime have concentrated on the resonator/oscillator sections inside the handset. And finally, in the MEMS audio microphone space, Knowles Acoustics currently rules the roost, but not for long as companies such as Akustica, Sonion and Matsushita continue to make inroads into this segment.

ABI Research's new study, "Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) in Mobile Phones," discusses these issues in detail, examining market drivers for mobile phone MEMS, handset penetration rates, associated component ASPs and revenues. It delves into the details of the different MEMS circuitry inside the RF and baseband sections, integration roadmaps, power consumption, process technologies and vendor market shares. This study forms part of ABI Research's Wireless Semiconductors Research Service.