News Article

RFMD Springboards To BiFETs And Beyond

"Integration" is the buzzword for the newly remodeled RF Micro Devices-Sirenza Microdevices entity, both at the corporate and chip level.

Power amplifiers featuring BiFET technology will begin contributing to RFMD s sales this year, as part of a swathe of new technologies the company is introducing.

The BiFETs are to be followed in 2008 by a next-generation GaAs technology that will be “quite revolutionary", according to Vic Steel, RFMD s vice-president of corporate R&D.

RFMD s new technologies seek to integrate the greater switching requirements necessary for multi-band PAs in the newest handsets. The need to move between different signal-transmission protocols can still result in multiple PAs being deployed in individual handsets.

However, also set to come out of RFMD s Greensboro, North Carolina, labs over the next year is a system that brings complex switching functionality back into a single PA. This is the promise held by the company s new RF MEMS technology that it says can be deployed on top of circuits made from silicon CMOS, SiGe or GaAs.

The switching devices, which RFMD says are the first volume commercial RF MEMS, will be sampled in 2008 and will ramp to production in 2009.

MEMS devices require physical protection that RFMD says it will provide using wafer-level hermetic sealing. It can also use this wafer-level protection for its RF filters, reducing the packaging size of the modules they're included in.

Away from the handset market, RFMD has qualified the GaN process it is using to make 48 V PAs for cellular base stations. According to Steel, these PAs are so efficient that it has been possible to operate them without cooling fans, which is unheard of with existing silicon LDMOS technologies.

Here comes the switch

Then, in an interesting move to further exploit its existing technologies, RFMD is also to begin selling its switches as discrete products, away from the handset space.

RFMD is already the biggest maker of RF switches in the world, pointed out Bob Van Buskirk, formerly Sirenza CEO and now leading the multi-market product group (MPG) that will sell this new product line.

This is the first example of what the number one PA maker calls the “second return on investments" that it will be able to achieve by integrating Sirenza into its structure.

Now refocused as the MPG, the division s existing relationships with what Van Buskirk calls the “littles and middles" in the market will help RFMD get further mileage from its intellectual property. The MPG hopes to sell devices to small and medium-sized companies based on advanced technology from the handset division that Van Buskirk says “pays for a lot of stuff that we ll get for free".

Having reduced its reliance on its handset customers through the Sirenza acquisition, the company is now publicly talking about ways to diversify even further. On RFMD s November 15 analyst day Steel said that the company is considering whether it should start developing LED technology.

The firm is also looking seriously at getting into the GaAs photovoltaic business, which is “a logical follow-on to the investment in our GaAs wafer fab" according to Steel.

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