The Week In Review: Sept. 23

Apple makes switch; 450mm head scratcher; Fox TV goes high-tech; stacked die; controlling IP.

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By Mark LaPedus
For some time, Apple’s iPhones have incorporated a separate RF switch and diversity switch from Peregrine Semiconductor (PSMI). The switches are based on a silicon-on-insulator (SOI) variant called silicon-on-sapphire (SOS). Murata takes Peregrine’s RF switches and integrates them into a module. Doug Freedman, an analyst with RBC Capital, said Apple is no longer using PSMI’s RF switch for its new iPhones, but is still using the diversity switch. Now, Apple is using RF switches based on cheaper plain-vanilla RF SOI technology. “Tear-downs on the iPhone 5s/5c revealed that there is no Murata model attached to the RF front-end. This module typically carries the PSMI switches. The switch has been replaced with a Skyworks or RFMD switch. Now, Apple’s move away from Murata/PSMI clearly shows us that the growth in the market is moving towards cheaper RFSOI technology, which is ‘good enough’ and is likely a better enabler of integration,” Freedman said.

The migration to 450mm fabs is off to a shaky start. Intel has delayed 450mm beta equipment deliveries by some three quarters, according to Pacific Crest Securities. The first tool shipments to Intel were supposed to start in the first quarter of 2015, the firm said. That’s why some are scratching their heads over New York’s plans to expand its 450mm efforts. The state already has one 450mm entity, the G450 Consortium (G450C), based in Albany. In the latest move, the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) will develop the Marcy Nanocenter site as a potential location for 450mm fabs. The big question is which companies will build a 450mm fab at Marcy, which is located in upstate New York’s Mohawk Valley. Under the plan, Marcy will develop up to 8.25 million square feet of facilities, which could comprise of up to three 450mm fabs. The total public and private investment for the effort is $10 billion to $15 billion.

Mike Splinter, executive chairman at Applied Materials, was interviewed by Fox Business. In a video, Splinter explains how materials innovations are enabling low-power, high-performance chips.

Mentor Graphics announced that its EDA solutions have been validated by TSMC with a true 3D stacking test vehicle for TSMC’s 3D-IC Reference Flow.

Cadence Design Systems announced the availability of its Secure Digital (SD) 4.0 Host Controller intellectual property (IP) core. This allows designers to achieve the maximum memory card access performance of up to 312-MB/s.

Soitec announced that a contract has been signed with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) for a 1-MW solar project at Fort Irwin, California.

Veeco has signed an agreement to acquire Synos Technology, a supplier of atomic layer deposition (ALD) systems for OLED displays.

KULeuven, Imec and AIST have developed a solid phase epitaxy process to integrate GermaniumTin (GeSn) metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET) devices on silicon. This is a step toward achieving tensile strain in MOSFET devices.

Worldwide semiconductor manufacturing equipment spending is projected to total $34.6 billion in 2013, an 8.5% decline from 2012 spending of $37.8 billion, according to Gartner. Gartner predicts that 2014 semiconductor capital spending will increase by 14.1%.  Another firm, VLSI Research, predicts the fab tool market will fall by 7.4% in 2013, but will grow by 15.2% in 2014.

At one time, TSMC was the technology leader among the major pure-play foundries. For 2013, 51% of TSMC’s revenue is expected to be from ≤45nm processing, according to IC Insights. In 2013, 50% of GlobalFoundries’ sales are forecast to be from ≤45nm production, according to the firm.

Spending on microwave RF power semiconductors has been kick-started by the availability of new gallium nitride (GaN) devices for 4 to 18 GHz. Point-to-point communications, SATCOM, radars of all types and new industrial/medical applications will all benefit by the introduction of these high-power GaN devices, according to ABI Research.