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Anadigics Charge Hinges On BiFETs

Wafer-level integration of InGaP HBT and PHEMT structures is at the heart of Anadigics' strategy to return to profitability, hears Michael Hatcher.

After what has seemed a tortuous gestation period, 3G wireless is now with us and, it would seem, proving popular. According to leading vendor Nokia and others, the number of 3G handsets shipped in 2006 should approach 100 million, nearly double the 2005 volume.

At the annual 3GSM World Congress wireless industry get-together in Barcelona in February, the 3G push was very much in evidence. Ali Khatibzadeh from InGaP power amplifier (PA) supplier Anadigics was there. "As soon as you set foot in Barcelona you saw Samsung billboards advertising the first HSDPA phone," said the general manager of wireless products at the Warren, NJ, chip maker.

HSDPA stands for high-speed downlink packet access, and is a key area for Anadigics. That s because wireless industry giant Qualcomm is a big noise when it comes to this particular technology. "At the moment, if you re designing and building an HSDPA phone then you have to go to Qualcomm," explained Khatibzadeh. Anadigics now supplies the San Diego company with the PAs that feature in the reference design for these advanced chipsets.

"HSDPA and 3G chipsets are much more tied together than with 2G. It gives us a unique position because the barrier to entry for other suppliers that are not on the reference design is quite high," said Khatibzadeh.

Because of the added complexity and resulting current consumption of 3G cellular, the linearity of the PA is even more critical, and this is where InGaP excels. Not only are handset unit shipments rapidly ramping up, so is the III-V content in each handset.

This is where Anadigics BiFET technology offers a crucial advantage. Most of the chip maker s new products now feature the integrated InGaP HBT/PHEMT structures, which are manufactured on 6 inch wafers. Rivals like Skyworks Solutions, Triquint Semiconductor and RF Micro Devices are taking a similar approach. Skyworks has its own BiFET process that combines InGaP HBTs with FETs on the same substrate, while RFMD s approach has been to integrate PHEMTs and HBTs manufactured separately.

Skyworks continues to manufacture on 4 inch wafers, but Anadigics converted to the larger platform way back in 1999. Having previously led the PA pack in the early days of cellular with its GaAs MESFETs, Anadigics was knocked off its perch when RFMD became Nokia s key supplier of GaAs HBTs, as cell phones transitioned to 3 V operation in the late 1990s.

The combination of lost market share and the huge investment in its 6 inch GaAs fab has made life tough for Anadigics since then, but with the arrival of 3G, HSDPA and WiMAX the worm now appears to be turning in the company s favor.

That much is clear from a strong pick-up in revenue. In its February earnings call, sales for the holiday quarter were up 49% year-on-year, and Anadigics has predicted an even stronger 2006.

Khatibzadeh sees a direct correlation between those sales increases and the introduction of BiFETs, which Anadigics transferred into volume production in 2003. "Looking at the strong relationships we have with key players such as Intel and Qualcomm, you could argue that this [BiFET] technology has been a key performance differentiator."

Anadigics already enjoys strong links with Intel on its Centrino Wi-Fi chipset for notebook PCs. With Intel now pushing the WiMAX equivalent - at its developer forum in March, Intel s Sean Maloney said that cards for mobile WiMAX would begin shipping in late 2006 - the new broadband connectivity protocol looks to be another boon for Anadigics.

"WiMAX is an OFDM system, which means that it really requires linear performance from the PA, and in general it also means greater power consumption," explained Khatibzadeh. "So having a good, low-power consumption PA with good linearity is important for 3G as well as WiMAX - and that means that it favors GaAs. Nobody s talking about CMOS PAs for 3G or WiMAX."

The Anadigics strategy now revolves around the BiFET advantages. "If you look at Skyworks or RFMD, there is more of a focus on 2G and 2.5G, with their Polaris and Helios platforms," said Khatibzadeh. "People expect to have 2.5G for the same cost as 2G. We think the real story is in 3G. Obviously, 3G features GPRS/EDGE as a requirement, but it is one part of the overall chipset."

While Anadigics does pick up some 2.5G business, it sees a much greater opportunity for revenue growth and, ultimately, a return to profitability in the more advanced platforms. "We go after 2.5G in an opportunistic way. For example, the Research in Motion Blackberrys use Anadigics PAs, and we re very proud of that. This kind of market will exist and will grow, but we d rather put our investments in 3G."

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