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Nitronex snubbed by RFHIC's Cree switch

Korean vendor says it favors performance and reliability provided by SiC substrates over silicon for GaN wireless components.

RFHIC says that GaN-on-SiC devices can be competitive with products manufactured on silicon wafers, thanks to economies of scale offered by its strategic partner Cree.

“Although GaN-on-SiC is not the cheapest GaN solution, Cree makes it a viable alternative even compared to the most cut-throat LDMOS,” said Kevin Kim, senior international sales manager at RFHIC.

Cree announced that it had signed a strategic agreement with the fabless Korean wireless component manufacturer to supply it with GaN HEMTs at the beginning of June.

In 2006 RFHIC originally embarked on a strategic alliance with Cree s Durham, North Carolina, neighbor Nitronex, which produces GaN devices on silicon substrates.

Now, RFHIC s chief technology officer Samuel Cho has indicated that the latest deal is part of a clear move away from GaN-on-silicon.

“We converted our product line and future direction to Cree s GaN-on-SiC HEMT technology based on its superior thermal and electrical characteristics as well as its outstanding robustness and reliability,” he said.

The high-volume LED manufacturing business that Cree is better known for is founded on its SiC expertise, and RFHIC says that is a major attraction. Now the Korean firm is exploiting low-defect, stable supply and comparatively low cost substrates, among other advantages that Cree can provide.

“Their fab overhead is being shared with SiC power products,” Kevin Kim told compoundsemiconductor.net. “With increasing the wafer diameter and a large total number of processed wafers in the fab, we expect there will be a significant cost benefit in the long run.”

Kim also said that the collaboration strategy, in which Cree focuses on device and transistor level products and RFHIC works on hybrid and pallet amplifiers, suits his company.

Key customers in the broadcasting and communication markets are already receiving RFHIC s GaN-on-SiC wideband amplifiers. Higher volume production is scheduled for the final quarter of 2009, and the majority of the projects are multi-year contracts.

In response to Cho s comments, Nitronex director of marketing Ray Crampton claims his company s latest products have better thermal performance than any of its competitors offerings.

“We have won major military design-wins at tier one customers based on both performance and robustness advantages over SiC-based GaN HEMTs,” he said. “Our robustness is proven and accepted as is our electrical and thermal performance.”

“While I respect the potential of any competitor, RFHIC has not shown the ability to take advantage of the performance benefits of GaN and I don t expect them to be a significant player on the competitive battle field.”

GaN development for RF applications owes a great deal to the DARPA Wide-Bandgap Semiconductor (WBGS) program, which has featured Cree in the largest of its three development projects.

In March Raytheon, which has collaborated with Cree on this project, was the first to announce it had entered Phase III of WBGS with a $23.9 million contract.

Fellow WBGS pioneer TriQuint gained $16.5 million to progress the strand of the project in which it is leading Lockheed-Martin, BAE Systems, II-VI and IQE RF in early June.

No public statement has yet been made by the third strand, led by Northrop Grumman and including RFMD via its acquisition of Sirenza, on whether it is entering Phase III.

Each of the three RF device makers involved in the WBGS projects has now launched a GaN foundry service. RFMD officially launched its offering at the MTT-S International Microwave Symposium this month, after TriQuint and Cree launched theirs last year.

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