RF SOI Market Heats Up

GlobalFoundries is entering the RF SOI foundry business as part of a deal with Peregrine. For its part, Peregrine is entering the RF SOI chip market in an effort to develop lower cost devices.

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GlobalFoundries has entered the radio-frequency silicon-on-insulator (RF SOI) foundry business as part of an alliance with Peregrine Semiconductor. As part of the move, Peregrine is entering the RF SOI chip market in an effort to develop lower cost devices.   

Peregrine is sampling the first RF switch devices based on its new RF SOI process, dubbed UltraCMOS 10 RF SOI. The 130nm technology delivers more than a 50% performance improvement over comparable solutions.

In a joint development effort, GlobalFoundries and Peregrine have developed a fabrication flow based on Peregrine’s UltraCMOS 10 RF SOI process. Peregrine will develop and sell chips based on the technology, while GlobalFoundries is the foundry partner.  

The move represents GlobalFoundries’ entry into the RF SOI foundry market, which is dominated by IBM, TowerJazz and others. GlobalFoundries also provides other RF processes besides SOI.

It also represents a major change in strategy for Peregrine. Previously, Peregrine was selling RF chips based on an RF SOI variant called silicon-on-sapphire (SOS). In their respective smartphones, Apple, Samsung and others were (and still are) using Peregrine’s SOS-based RF switches. Murata takes Peregrine’s SOS-based RF switches and sells them as RF modules.   

But more recently, Apple has moved to RF switch devices based on plain-vanilla RF SOI chips, reportedly from Skyworks and RF Micro. RF SOI is supposedly a cheaper solution than SOS. “Our view was that Apple’s  move away from Murata/Peregrine clearly shows us that the growth in the market is moving towards less expensive RF SOI technology, which is ‘good enough’ and is likely a better enabler of integration,” said Doug Freedman, an analyst with  RBC Capital Markets, in a research note.

Peregrine’s SOS-based chips are primarily made on a foundry basis at MagnaChip. Peregrine will continue to sell SOS-based RF chips. But now, the San Diego-based RF chip maker will offer cheaper RF SOI chips.  

Peregrine’s new RF SOI process will be made using a 130nm process on 200mm wafers from GlobalFoundries. “The process combined with Peregrine’s new packaging technologies, including chip scale, allows Peregrine to target low-cost handsets with low ASP solutions to outperform competitors,” Freedman said. “That said, we believe Peregrine’s efforts to develop SOI, where they’ve been beaten out, is likely prudent and could likely improve the cost structure and growth trajectory.”

Regarding the RF SOI process, Jim Cable, CEO at Peregrine, said:  “It enables us to have a comprehensive technology roadmap with access to future-generation technologies.”

Ajit Manocha, CEO of GlobalFoundries, added: “The joint development of a unique fabrication flow, coupled with Peregrine’s RF expertise, allows us to produce the highest performing RF SOI solution on the market today.”

Peregrine is enhancing a long-term relationship and leveraging a new one for the UltraCMOS 10 introduction with Soitec, a supplier of SOI wafers. Paul Boudre, COO at Soitec said: “We are very pleased that Soitec’s revolutionary-engineered semiconductor materials support Peregrine’s next-generation UltraCMOS 10 technology.”