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WIN and Plextek form low-cost bespoke RF team

The Taiwanese GaAs fab strengthens its relationship with the UK design house, and together they look to exploit export advantages brought by their non-US status.

Plextek has been picked by WIN Semiconductor as its approved design partner, and says that the partnership can provide cheaper, better-suited, RF circuits than integrated device manufacturers (IDMs).

The formal partnership was conceived at June s Microwave Theory and Techniques Society show, better known as MTT-S, as an extension of an existing collaboration.

Plextek had already designed MMICs for clients using WIN s process, and the companies are now working on custom GaAs circuits for an unnamed maker of versatile cross-market subsystems.

The combined approach sees the circuits designed at Plextek s Great Chesterford, UK, site and realized at WIN s Taiwan fab. Liam Devlin, Plextek's director of RF Integration, told compoundsemiconductor.net that the collaboration offers customers two main benefits.

“One is that they can have an IC that meets exactly their functional requirements, they don t just have to buy a part off the shelf that s the closest to what they need.”

“The second benefit is cost. If you take the price of a wafer and divide that by the number of ICs that you've got, that s quite a lot cheaper than you can buy an IC from an IDM.”

Plextek works with a number of compound semiconductor foundries, including TriQuint and GCS, and says that the number of ICs that a customer wants will often drive the decision about which foundry to use.

WIN s four-in-one multi-project technology allows four customers to share a “mask set”. Each customer is allocated one quarter of the reticle that contains the photomask design data. This keeps costs low for prototype IC fabrication.

“When WIN make the wafers, they step-and-repeat your quarter of the reticle across one wafer, somebody else's quarter of the reticle across another wafer, so each wafer in the batch will have a unique set of circuits for one client,” Devlin explained.

“In this way, they can deliver one complete wafer with just your circuits on, but still give you the multi-project wafer cost-savings.”

The two companies are currently seeing most enquiries from companies wanting GaAs high-data-rate communication circuits with WIN s capabilities also well suited to millimeter-wave communications.

To date all of the companies joining the WIN-Plextek collaboration have come from outside the US, although Devlin made it clear that this was not intentional.

Instead, it seems that a collaboration of non-US companies avoids US-specific laws collectively called International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR. These control the export and import of items deemed to be defense-related.

“There are certain functions which are on the ITAR list of controlled components,” Devlin commented.

“Which functions and components fall into ITAR regulations is becoming increasingly broad as time goes on and some people are a little wary of using US foundries because of these export restrictions.”

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