Specialty foundry TowerJazz is ramping a 65nm version of its RF-SOI process on 300mm wafers at Fab 7 in Uozu, Japan. To support the ramp, the company has signed a contract with long-term partner, Soitec, guaranteeing a supply of tens of thousands of 300mm SOI silicon wafers, securing wafer prices for the next years and ensuring supply to its customers, despite a tight SOI wafer market.
Five of TJ’s seven fabs do RF-SOI. LNA (low-noise amplifers) are a big market driver, and with RF-SOI they can integrate the LNA with the switch, CEO Russell Ellwanter said in his lead keynote at the SOI Consortium’s 5th International RF-SOI Workshop in Shanghai (spring, 2018). BTW, that was in fact a very inspirational talk about Value Creation, and the importance of treating your suppliers with respect. He credited his company’s close relationship with RF-SOI wafer-supplier Soitec for TJ’s claim to the world’s best linearity.
“We are delighted to see the strong adoption of 300mm RF SOI through this large capacity and supply agreement with TowerJazz to augment our already significant 200mm RF-SOI partnership,” said Soitec CEO Paul Boudre. “TowerJazz was the first foundry to ramp our RFeSI products to high volume production in 200mm and continues as one of the industry leaders in innovation in this exciting RF market with advanced and differentiated offerings.”
According to the TJ press release (you can read it here), with its best in class metrics the TowerJazz 65nm RF-SOI process enables the combination of low insertion loss and high power handling RF switches with options for high-performance low-noise amplifiers as well as digital integration. The process can reduce losses in an RF switch improving battery life and boosting data rates in handsets and IoT terminals.
It’s a high-growth market, to be sure. Market researchers Mobile Experts predict that the mobile RF front-end market will reach $22 billion in 2022 from an estimated $16 billion in 2018. TowerJazz says its breakthrough RF SOI technology continues to support this high-growth market and is well-poised to take advantage of next-generation 5G standards, which will boost data rates and provide further content growth opportunities in the coming years.
Customers are already getting into position. For example, Maxscend (WuXi, China), a provider of RF components and IoT integrated circuits, is ramping in this new technology. “We chose TowerJazz for its advanced technology capabilities and its ability to deliver in high volume while continuously innovating with a strong roadmap. We specifically selected its 300mm 65nm RF SOI platform for our next-generation product line due to its superior performance, enabling low insertion loss and high power handling,” said Maxscend CEO Zhihan Xu.
As longtime ASN readers will know, we’ve been covering the evolutions of TJ’s RF-SOI platforms since the beginning of the decade. It’s worth noting, too, that beyond RF, TowerJazz also offers foundry customers other SOI-based processes, such as the new 0.18μm BCD SOI, a 200V SOI technology platform (announced in 2017, press release here) for motor drivers, industrial tools, electric vehicles and more. The previous generation 0.18μm SOI for automotive power management also offers exceptional area savings and is well-suited for high temperature operation. Back in 2014, here at ASN we did a great interview with TJ SVP Dr. Marco Racanelli about when and why they use SOI – and while processes have advanced, the basic drivers are still there, so it’s a still a good read.
And finally, designers will want to know that the TJ Multi-Project Wafer (MPW) Shuttle Program offers the 65nm RF-SOI process, as well as other SOI-based processes. See the website for scheduling and details.
With the acquisition of Maxim’s 8-inch fab in San Antonio, Texas, TowerJazz plans to quickly qualify its core specialty technologies, including its advanced Radio-Frequency Silicon-on-Insulator (RF-SOI) offering, to serve the substantial growth in demand from its customers. (See press release here.)
The proposed purchase will expand TowerJazz’s current worldwide manufacturing capacity, cost-effectively increasing production by approximately 28,000 wafers per month. The availability of additional capacity is expected to be needed to serve TowerJazz’s current and forecasted robust customer demand. TowerJazz and Maxim expect to close the transaction in January 2016, subject to customary closing conditions.
Global specialty foundry TowerJazz and TowerJazz Panasonic Semiconductor Co. (TPSCo), the leading analog foundry in Japan, have announced breakthrough RF-SOI technology for next-generation 4G LTE smartphones and IoT devices. Through a collaborative effort, TowerJazz and its majority owned subsidiary, TPSCo, have developed a new 300mm RF-SOI process that can reduce losses in an RF switch by as much as 30% relative to current technology, improving battery life and boosting data rates. The technology achieves a record Ron-Coff figure of merit of sub-90fs and is now being sampled to a lead customer. (Read the press release here.)
Specialty foundry TowerJazz announced the availability of an enhanced RF-SOI CMOS process design kit (PDK) for its 0.18µm process technology (see press release here). The kit was developed for use with Agilent Technologies’ Advanced Design System (ADS) software and targets a wide range of analog markets including front-end modules for mobile phones, tablets and WiFi terminals.
The CEO of TowerJazz recently told analysts that in 2012, the company saw “a large amount of SOI design activity”, which he says will fuel revenue growth in 2013. Smart phone antenna switches that handle 8 to 14 different bands are moving from gallium arsenide to SOI, he explained.
“GlobalFoundries, TowerJazz, TSMC and UMC are expanding or bringing up RF SOI processes in 300mm fabs in an apparent race to garner the first wave of RF business for 5G, the next-generation wireless standard,” writes Mark Lapedus of Semiconductor Engineering. His recent piece, RF-SOI Wars Begin, explains why demand across the supply chain is currently tight.
Rest assured, the supply situation is being addressed fast. By next year, 300mm-based RF-SOI manufacturing (vs. 200mm) will increase from 5% to 20%. But with insatiable end-user demand for greater throughput, overall RF-SOI device demand is increasing in the double-digit range, so 200mm-based manufacturing is also expanding fast.
SOI wafer manufacturer Soitec has 70% of the RF-SOI wafer market share. The other RF-SOI wafer manufacturers – Shin-Etsu, GlobalWafers and Simgui – all use Soitec’s RF-SOI wafer manufacturing technology.
This is an excellent, comprehensive piece, that clearly explains the complexities of the markets, the devices, the manufacturing and the supply chain. It’s a highly recommended read.
BTW, the SOI Consortium is organizing a 4G/5G SOI supply chain workshop during Semicon West (July ’18). Sign up or get more information on that under the Events tab here on the consortium website.
Of course, here at ASN, we’ve been covering RF-SOI for over a decade. You can use our RF-SOI tag to access most of the pieces we’ve done over the years.