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Can CMOS compete with GaAs PAs in cell phones?

Yes, according to Samsung. Rather than a gallium arsenide power amplifier, the mass produced 3G Samsung Galaxy Appeal is one of the first phones incorporating a silicon CMOS power amplifier
Despite a historical presence from silicon based CMOS devices in the 2G handset market, concerns over performance have severely limited its progress in the 3G domain.

Until now, the GaAs based PA incumbents such as, Avago, TriQuint, RFMD, Skyworks, and Anadigics have not felt any real impact.

But new products such as the Javelin J5501 BI Pa incorporated in the Galaxy Appeal, indicate that this performance gap has been narrowed significantly.

Jim Mielke, VP of engineering at ABI Research, says, “Even though the CMOS PA is over 3 times the die area of a typical GaAs PA (3.3mm2 vs. 1mm2 in the Appeal example), the lower CMOS wafer cost, simple packaging and the added digital content that reduces test times allow the CMOS PAs - such as the ones produced by Black Sand and Javelin - to compete competitively on cost as well as performance.”

Mielke goes on to add that the market should, “Expect single digit market share numbers for CMOS PAs in 2013. The CMOS PA market volumes could be even higher if Qualcomm is successful with their penta-band CMOS PA they are actively presenting now.”

Product Testing of the Galaxy Appeal and the Javelin J5501 BI provided some conclusions that may be central to this evolving market:

ABI Research says CMOS PAs match GaAs efficiency across all power levels up to 22.5dBm but CMOS PAs have an efficiency advantage at low power levels, using up to 20 percent less current.

But GaAs PA dies are significantly smaller than their CMOS counterparts and both GaAs and CMOS PAs can be manufactured for under $0.40.


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