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Strong demand pull fires up GaN foundries

Two of the biggest III-V companies are responding to the needs of the defense industry to push the power and frequency of RF transistors - and look set to move to GaN production on 4-inch wafers in doing so.

by Andy Extance in Atlanta
Cree and TriQuint have both rolled out competing GaN foundry services amid strong interest in the high-power RF technology at the 2008 International Microwave Symposium.

In each case military applications are providing a strong driving force in developing GaN devices, attracted by characteristics like high power density and high-temperature operation.

Both companies are still involved in DARPA s Wide Bandgap Semiconductor Technology initiative, with TriQuint in particular indicating to compoundsemiconductor.net in Atlanta that its GaN efforts are being supported by the recent award of the third phase of funding within this program.

TriQuint and Cree also both contributed to the event s swarm of GaN power amplifier product releases, which ironically are now encouraging other companies to design their own devices.

“Buying off the shelf tends to attract people into design,” said John Palmour, executive vice president for advanced devices at Cree. “Thanks to that in part there will be plenty of military and some R&D use of the foundry.”

TriQuint s foundry services will initially encompass the frequency range from DC to 18 GHz, which Cree is also intending to support.

The two foundries will share another common approach in producing devices from GaN epiwafers grown on SiC substrates. TriQuint is working with its epiwafer supplier IQE to move from 3-inch to 4-inch wafers. If Cree is not already using 4-inch GaN wafers, as the industry s dominant supplier of SiC substrates it is surely not far away either.

However, before any squabbles can break out between these two companies over which was the first commercial GaN foundry, a third player may wish to have a say.

Germany s United Monolithic Semiconductors (UMS) has been working on developing GaN devices in a European collaboration since 2006 and is also looking at a move to 4-inch wafers. Here the military interest is provided by aerospace firm - and part owner of UMS - EADS.

NXP Semiconductors adds a high-volume angle, expecting the collaboration to deliver commercial 100 W GaN devices for wideband-CDMA base stations in 2009. Mark Murphy, NXP s spokesperson for the project, said that the collaboration is currently achieving the company s reliability targets for this product line in comparisons with its existing silicon LDMOS products.

Specific processes used by the collaboration are out of bounds to other customers, but UMS still offers GaN foundry services elsewhere to help enhance the technology s overall commercial viability.

This European collaboration, led by the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid-State Physics, takes the view that there is room for three major GaN players globally. According to Murphy, Japan s Eudyna and Cree in the US currently take the top slots. Although Europe s effort is a collaboration reliant on a III-V foundry rather than a single company, he believes that there will ultimately be one major GaN player in Asia, one in North America and one in Europe.

Andy Extance is a reporter for compoundsemiconductor.net.

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