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TriQuint trains sights on high-speed Bluetooth

The GaAs foundry company is hoping to break into the silicon-dominated Bluetooth power amplifier market with a product designed to work over long distances and at a high data rate.

TriQuint Semiconductor has launched its first GaAs-based power amplifier product designed specifically for high-speed Bluetooth wireless connectivity.

Although the Oregon-based company already sells filter devices for Bluetooth applications, these components are based on surface acoustic wave technology rather than compound semiconductors.

Bluetooth, which is mostly used for short-range connectivity such as hooking up a cell phone to a speaker headset, or a wireless mouse to a PC, already represents a huge market. The market research company Strategy Analytics expects 420 million Bluetooth devices to ship in 2006.

However, the power amplifier stages used in Bluetooth devices have typically been dominated by low-cost silicon technology, which is suitable for low-data-rate, short-range connectivity at the 2.4 GHz-2.5 GHz frequency used.

RF Micro Devices launched a GaAs-based Bluetooth product back in 2000, for example (see related story), but its latest offerings are manufactured using a single-chip silicon CMOS process.

Now, however, consumers are beginning to demand longer-range connectivity, while transfer rates are also becoming an issue for data-intensive applications such as high-quality wireless headphones.

And it is this market for high-end Bluetooth, also known as "Class 1 operation", that TriQuint is hoping to penetrate with its InGaP HBT power amplifier designs.

"Class 1 Bluetooth systems allow up to 100 m ranges and provide for high data rates," explained TriQuint's Berry Leonard, adding that Class 1 applications will make up approximately 45 per cent of the projected total future market for Bluetooth.

Using a GaAs-based technology in the power amplifier stage allows a much more compact system design, thanks to the smaller die size that is needed compared with silicon, as well as a simplified circuit board and reduced need for external parts.

In particular, TriQuint s new power amplifier is said to be the first to meet enhanced data rate specifications for operation at up to 3 Mbit/s.

The high power-added efficiency and linearity rating of GaAs-based power amplifiers also means that high data rates and long-rage communication can be supported with a reduced drain on battery power compared with systems that use silicon amplifiers.

TriQuint told compoundsemiconductor.net that, when bundled together with an extra switch and bandpass filter, the 2 mm x 2 mm amplifiers could easily slot into lower-specification Class 2 or Class 3 Bluetooth systems to provide an instant design "upgrade" for Class 1 operation.

The company has already sampled to lead customers, and is now finalizing its plans for volume manufacturing. Although no dates for this have been fixed, the chips will be made at its 6-inch wafer facility in Hillsboro, OR.

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