News Article

Cree And RFMD Make A Play For GaN RF Market

Two of the industry's biggest hitters go head-to-head and launch a range of GaN-based transistors for cellular infrastructure and broadband wireless applications.

RF Micro Devices (RFMD) and Cree have both launched a wide range of high-power GaN-based transistors for high-speed wireless communications.

The North Carolina companies, which have been hugely influential in the III-V business and are two of the biggest device manufacturers around, believe that the cellular infrastructure and broadband wireless markets are now finally waking up to the advantages that the wide-bandgap technology can bring.

RFMD says that it is already sampling GaN HEMT transistors to the top-tier vendors of cellular base station equipment. Its new family of devices, showcased at this week's MTT-S wireless event in San Francisco, consists of nine different products.

Transistors for cellular applications include four HEMTs, the most powerful being a 120 W device. On the WiMAX front, RFMD lists new 50 W products for both the 2.5 GHz and 3.5 GHz frequency bands.

In an exclusive interview with Compoundsemiconductor.net, Jeff Shealy, VP of RFMD's infrastructure products group, said that he believes the cellular industry is committed to backing GaN technology for applications in wideband-CDMA base stations.

Shealy added that the Greensboro company is in a position to exploit its experience in high-volume GaAs manufacturing to give it the edge in the emerging GaN electronics sector.

Having now converted much of its 4-inch GaAs capacity to 6-inch, the recent availability of 4-inch SiC substrates has enabled RFMD to switch its smaller manufacturing line for back-end processes such as metallization and lithography to GaN without the need for a costly fab redevelopment.

"We plan on competing [for this market] in the context of our GaAs fab," said Shealy. "It means that GaN looks like just any other wafer."

One key difference is at the epitaxy stage, where RFMD uses MOCVD for GaN deposition rather than MBE. The latter is its standard method for GaAs wafer epitaxy. The company uses both internal and external sources of GaN epitaxial material and has two MOCVD machines of its own.

RFMD will be hoping that the impressive performance of its new HEMTs can turn some heads at the MTT-S event. Its high-power devices feature a peak drain efficiency of 67 percent for cellular applications and up to 60 percent at the higher frequency bands in which WiMAX operates. Gain is quoted at 16 dB, with a power density of 4 W/mm at 28 V.

Perhaps most crucially of all, RFMD says that it has proved high-temperature reliability over 1000 hours. Infrastructure qualification of the first-generation process will begin in September this year.

It will now be competing for market share with local neighbour and key SiC substrate supplier Cree.

The Durham, NC, company is also targeting WiMAX and cellular applications with its own family of 2.4-3.9 GHz HEMTs. At MTT-S, Cree released higher-power versions of its existing transistor, including a 120 W device.

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