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Expanding Nitronex Attracts $22 Million Fund

Beefing up manufacturing operations and headcount is the priority for GaN-on-silicon specialist Nitronex.

GaN-on-silicon specialist Nitronex has closed a $21.8 million venture capital funding round.

The Raleigh, NC, company, which agreed a deal to supply GaN-based power amplifier (PA) products for WiMAX applications to a Korean customer late last year, says that it will use some of the new funds to expand its manufacturing operations.

Several new products for WiMAX and cellular applications are said to be in the late stages of development, while Nitronex also plans to accelerate recruitment in all areas of the business.

Nitronex CTO Kevin Linthicum told compoundsemiconductor.net that the latest round would be the company s last, as it now has the funds to switch to a larger, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility.

Although the new location isn t yet confirmed, epitaxy operations are set to be switched first, with the move expected to be completed in early 2007.

The investment in Nitronex is the latest sign that the market for GaN-based RF transistors such as HEMTs and HFETs is set to become a significant one in the near future.

Much of that development is set to take place in North Carolina, where Nitronex's close neighbors RF Micro Devices and Cree have both announced an extensive range of products based on the wide-bandgap semiconductor (see related story). Freescale and Eudyna Devices are also in the process of developing GaN-based RF products.

But while those much larger rivals will manufacture their products on SiC substrates, Nitronex takes a different approach, using a proprietary GaN-on-silicon solution.

According to its supporters, the use of silicon substrates will ultimately mean that GaN-based transistors can be manufactured at a competitive price. However, others, including Cree and RFMD, contend that the thermal management benefits of SiC substrates outweigh the advantages of silicon, especially now that many suppliers are offering 3-inch SiC, and with 4-inch becoming increasingly available.

Linthicum s response is that while using a silicon substrate does pose some thermal difficulties, these can be overcome through the use of innovative packaging solutions that effectively dissipate excess heat.

Despite the attentions of Cree and RFMD, Linthicum says that the extra competition is good news for the GaN RF business: "We see it as a plus. Commercial customers will want more than one supplier."

The latest funding round was led by Alloy Ventures and included new investors Intersouth Partners, ARCH Venture Partners and Diamondhead Ventures.

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