San Diego, USA based Ethertronics Inc., enabling innovative antenna and RF solutions to deliver the best connected experience, has launched Ether 1.3.1, a phone adaptive antenna solution. Ready for integration with smartphones or other classes of phones, the Ether 1.3.1 can realize design benefits such as 50 percent reduction in antenna volume, yet maintain compliant performance.
According to Laurent Desclos, president and CEO, Ether 1.3.1 allows an antenna system to dynamically tune itself for optimum performance. Phone form factors are constantly changing throughout the design cycle.
“Current solutions, using passive antennas, require the antenna to be re-tuned with each change to the phone form factor, lengthening the time to market. Ether 1.3.1′s advanced active circuitry is able to adapt to changes in the form factor, reducing the need for lengthy antenna redesigns.”
In addition, Ether 1.3.1 can be designed to take up less volume than other antennas (up to a 50-percent reduction), providing more space for other components, and yet, still remain specification compliant.
Is this solution only suitable for smartphones then? Desclos said that Ether 1.3.1 is not limited to just smartphones. It can be integrated into all tiers of devices such as feature phones and tablets supporting 2G, 3G, and 4G mobile device designs. Ether 1.3.1 is said to be ready for commercial deployment. Several design references have been accomplished to date. Products from OEMs will be announced in the future.
It is said that Ether 1.3.1 allows more freedom in antenna structure design. Elaborating, Desclos said: “Ether 1.3.1 allows more freedom in antenna structure design in a few core areas: size, placement and ability to meet performance specifications. Through the use of active impedance matching techniques, smaller volume antennas can be achieved.”
This is especially important as phone form factors shrink, while more components are added to phones for increased functionality (cameras, GPS, etc.). Ether 1.3.1 can additionally be used to achieve compliance as the antenna system can be dynamically tuned for known challenge areas in specification compliance.
Finally, how can the Ether 1.3.1 solution be tuned for tougher challenges by toning down the antenna size?
Typically, when the antenna’s size is decreased, performance suffers since there is less volume area to cover the required bandwidth. The beauty of active impedance matching is that the technique allows for the antenna volume to be reduced by as much as 50 percent and still maintain compliant performance. As a result, active impedance matching allows for a wide range of designs, since the technique is applicable to a broad range of form factors.
However, post the meeting, to my horror, I misplaced my notes and only managed to locate them last week. My apologies to Infineon for being late with this blog post.
I was able to discuss Infineon’s wireless strategy with Dr Ludwig and also managed a peek at Infineon’s range of microcontrollers during my discussion with Peter Schaefer. First, let’s have a look at the company’s wireless strategy.
Dr Matthias Ludwig said: “We are good in RF and baseband. There are about 1.5 billion RF transceivers out there globally, from Infineon.” He added that one third of the market falls in the low cost mobile phone segment.
Infineon’s wireless strategy is two fold — low cost solutions and the smartphone platform — where the company is focusing on the modem and the RF side, respectively. Infineon’s Android based smartphone platform uses an ARM 11 baseband. “Customers can come up with their own application processor,” Dr Ludwig said. “Our strategy gives us a lot of flexibility.”
He mentioned that Infineon receives a lot of requests from customers for smartphones at $100 solutions. “We believe that we can manage our single core Android platform in the $100 segment.”
Thanks to Dr Ludwig, I had a first hand experience of some of the smartphones that Infineon is currently working on. Actually, think about it! A $100 dollar (and even sub $100) smartphone may be just the thing Indians would love to have.
As for Infineon’s India strategy — part of the focus is on low cost. “We know that there is tough competition out there,” noted Dr. Ludwig. One other aspect that Infineon is focusing on is: how to develop and build an ecosystem in the country.
Of course, Infineon is also looking beyond the Indian market when it is developing solutions. In that respect, Dr Ludwig added that one of Infineon’s focus is to find the sweet spots that are not only of interest to India. “There is a certain drive to have low end products. Safety and reliability of the products are also important,” he concluded.
I will add a separate post on the conversation with Peter Schaefer, VP & GM, Head Microcontrollers, Infineon.
At the recently held Semicon West 2014, Daniel P. Tracy, senior director, Industry Research and Statistics, SEMI, presented on SEMI Materials Outlook. He estimated that semiconductor materials will see unit growth of 6 percent or more. There may be low revenue growth in a large number of segments due to the pricing pressures and change in material.
For semiconductor eequipment, he estimated ~20 percent growth this year, following two years of spending decline. It is currently estimated at ~11 percent spending growth in 2015.
Overall, the year to date estimate is positive growth vs. same period 2013, for units and materials shipments, and for equipment billings.
For equipment outlook, it is pointing to ~18 percent growth in equipment for 2014. Total equipment orders are up ~17 percent year-to-date.
For wafer fab materials outlook, the silicon area monthly shipments are at an all-time high for the moment. Lithography process chemicals saw -7 percent sales decline in 2013. The 2014 outlook is downward pressure on ASPs for some chemicals. 193nm resists are approaching $600 million. ARC has been growing 5-7 percent, respectively.
For packaging materials, the Flip Chip growth drivers are a flip chip growth of ~25 percent from 2012 to 2017 in units. There are trends toward copper pillar and micro bumps for TSV. Future flip chip growth in wireless products are driven by form factor and performance. BB and AP processors are also moving to flip chip.
There has been growth in WLP shipments. Major applications for WLP are driven by mobile products such as smartphones and tablets. It should grow at a CAGR of ~11 percent in units (2012-2017).
Solder balls were $280 million market in 2013. Shipments of lead-free solder balls continues to increase. Underfillls were $208 million in 2013. It includes underfills for flip chip and packages. The increased use of underfills for CSPs and WLPs are likely to pass the drop test in high-end mobile devices.
Wafer-level dielectrics were $94 million market in 2013. Materials and structures are likely to enhance board-level reliability performance.
Die-attach materials has over a dozen suppliers. Hitachi Chemical and Henkel account for major share of total die attach market. New players are continuing to emerge in China and Korea. Stacked-die CSP package applications have been increasing. Industry acceptance of film (flow)-over-wire (FOW) and dicing die attach film (DDF) technologies are also happening.
At Semicon West 2014, Bob Johnson, VP Research, Gartner, presented the Semiconductor Capital Spending Outlook at the SEMI/Gartner Market Symposium on July 7.
First, a look at the semiconductor revenue forecast: it is likely to grow at a 4.3 percent CAGR from 2013-2018. Logic continues to dominate, but growth falters. As per the 2013-2018 CAGRs, logic will be growing 3.5 percent, memory at 4.5 percent, and other at 6.3 percent.
As for the memory forecast, NAND should surpass DRAM. At 2013-2018 CAGRs, DRAM should grow -1.1 percent, while NAND should grow 10.8 percent. Smartphone, SSD and Ultramobile are the applications driving growth through 2018. SSDs are powering the NAND market.
Among ultramobiles, tablets should dominate through 2018. They should also take share from PCs. Next, smartphones have been dominating mobile phones.
Looking at the critical markets for capital investment, smartphones are the largest growth segment, but have been showing signs of saturation. The revenue growth could slow dramatically by 2018. Ultramobiles have the highest overall CAGR, but at the expense of PC market. Tablets are driving down semiconductor content. Desktop and notebook PCs are a large, but declining market. This also requires critical revenue to fund logic capex. Lastly, SSDs are driving NAND Flash growth. The move to data centers is driving sustainable growth.
In capital spending, memory is strong, but logic is weak through 2018. The 2014 spending is up 7.1 percent, driven by strong memory market. Strength in NAND spending will drive future growth. Note that memory oversupply in 2016 can create next cycle. NAND is the capex growth driver in memory spending.
The major semiconductor markets, which justify investment in logic leading edge capacity, are now running out of gas. Ultramobiles are cannibalizing PCs, smartphones are saturating and both are moving to lower cost alternatives. It is increasingly difficult to manufacture complex SoCs successfully at the absolute leading edge. Moore’s Law is slowing down, while costs are going up. Breakthrough technologies (i.e., EUV) are not ready when needed. Much of the intelligence of future applications is moving to the cloud. The data centers’ needs for fast, low power storage solutions are creating sustainable growth for NAND Flash.
The traditional two-year per node pace of Moore’s Law will continue to slow down. Only a few high volume/high performance applications will be able to justify the costs of 20nm and beyond. Whether this will require new or upgraded capacity is uncertain. 28nm will be a long lived node as mid-range mobility products demand higher levels of performance. Finally, the cloud will continue to grow in size and influence creating demand for new NAND Flash capacity and technology.
What does the future hold for MEMS? How can the MEMS indistry stay profitable and innovative in the next five years? The MEMS market is still in a dynamic growth with an estimated 12.3 percent CAGR over 2013-2019 in $US value, growing from $11.7 billion in 2013 to $24 billion in 2019.
This growth, principally driven by a huge expansion of consumer products, is mitigated by two main factors. First, due to a fierce competition based on pricing, the ASPs are continuously decreasing.
Second, innovation is slow and incremental, as no new devices have been successfully introduced on the market since 2003. Fierce competition based on pricing in now ongoing putting thus extreme pressure on device manufacturers.
Some trends are still impacting MEMS business. These are:
* Decrease of price in consumer electronics; ASP of MEMS microphones.
* Component size is still decreasing.
However, successful companies are still large leaders in distinct MEMS categories, such as STMicroelectronics, Knowles, etc. But maintaining growth in consumer electronic applications remains a challenge.
The market for motion sensor in cell phones and tablets is large and continuously expanding. Discrete sensors still decline, but will still be used in some platforms (OIS function for gyros). Next, 6- and 9-axis combos should grow rapidly. Because of strong price pressure and high adoption rate, the total market will stabilize from 2015.
STMicroelectronics, InvenSense and Bosch are still leaders in 3-axis gyros and 6-axis IMUs. It seems difficult for new players to compete and be profitable in this market. The automotive, industrial and medical applications of MEMS are driving growth of MEMS business. MEMS for automotive will grow from $2.6 billion in 2012 to $3.6 billion in 2018 with 5 percent CAGR.
MEMS industry is big and growing. Strong market pull observed for sensors and actuators in cell phones, automotive, medical, industrial.
• Not limited to few devices. A new wave of MEMS is coming!
• Component and die size are still being optimized while combo approaches become mainstream. And several disruptive technology approaches are now in development to keep going in term of size and price decrease.
• But the MEMS industry has not solved a critical issue: how to increase the chance of new devices to enter the market?
–RF switch, autofocus, energy harvesting devices, fuel cells… are example of devices still under development after over 10 years of effort.
–How to help companies to go faster and safer on the market with new devices?
Here is the concluding part of my discussion with Sam Fuller, CTO, Analog Devices. We discussed the technology aspects of Moore’s Law and
‘More than Moore’, among other things.
Are we at the end of Moore’s Law?
First, I asked Fuller that as Gordon Moore suggested – are we about to reach the end of Moore’s Law? What will it mean for personal computing?
Fuller replied: “There is definitely still life left in Moore’s law, but we’re leaving the golden age after the wonderful ride that we have had for the last 40 years. We will continue to make chips denser, but it is becoming difficult to continue to improve the performance as well as lower the power and cost.
“Therefore, as Moore’s law goes forward, more innovation is required with each new generation. As we move from Planer CMOS to FinFET (a new technology for multi-gate architecture of transistors); from silicon to more advanced materials Moore’s law will still have life for the next decade, but we are definitely moving into its final stages.
“For personal computing, there is still a lot of innovation left before we begin to run out of ideas. There will continue to be great advances in smart phones, mobile computing and tablets because software applications are really just beginning to take advantage of the phenomenal power and capacity of today’s semiconductors. The whole concept of ‘Internet of things’ will also throw up plenty of new opportunities.
“As we put more and more sensors in our personal gadgets, in factories, in industries, in infrastructures, in hospitals, and in homes and in vehicles, it will open up a completely new set of applications. The huge amount of data generated out of these sensors and wirelessly connected to the Internet will feed into the big data and analytics. This would create a plethora of application innovations.”
What’s happening in the plane?
The plane opportunity – 90nm – 65nm – 45nm – 22nm – 20nm – 14/18nm – is starting to get difficult and probably won’t work at 12nm, for purely physics reasons. What is Analog Devices’ take on this?
Fuller said: “You are right! We have been going from 45 nm down to lower nodes, it’ll probably go down to 10 nm, but we are beginning to run into some fundamental physics issues here. After all, it’s a relatively finite number of atoms that make up the channels in these transistors. So, you’re going to have to look at innovations beyond simply going down to finer dimensions.
“There are FinFETS and other ways that can help move you into the third dimension. We’re getting to a point where we can put a lot of complexity and a number of functions on a single die. We have moved beyond purely digital design to having more analog and mixed signal components in the same chip. There are also options such as stacked dies and multiple dies.
“Beyond integration on a single chip, Analog Devices leads in advanced packaging technologies for System in a Package (SiP) where sensors, digital and analog/mixed signal components are all in a single package as the individual components would typically use different technology nodes and it might not be practical to do such integration on a single die.
“So, the challenge often gets described as “More than Moore”, which is going beyond Moore’s law, bringing those capabilities to do analog processing as well as digital and then integrating sensors for temperature sensing, pressure sensing, motion sensing and a whole range of sensors integrated for enabling the ‘Internet of Things’.
“At Analog Devices, we have the capability in analog as well as digital, and having worked for over 20 years on MEMS devices, we are particularly well positioned as we get into ‘More than Moore’.”
I recently met Sam Fuller, CTO, Analog Devices, and had an interesting conversation. First, I asked him about the state of the global semicon industry in 2013.
Industry in 2013
He said: “Due to the uncertainties in the global economy in the last couple of years, the state of the global semiconductor industry has been quite modest growth. Because of the modest growth, there has been a buildup in demand. As the global economies begin to be more robust going forward, we expect to see more growth.”
Industry in 2014?
How does Analog Devices see the industry going forward in 2014? What are the five key trends?
He added: “I would talk about the trends more from an eco-system and applications perspective. Increased capability on a single chip: Given all the advances to Moore’s law, the capability of a chip has increased considerably in all dimensions and not just performance, be it the horsepower we see in today’s smartphones or the miniaturization and power consumption of wearable gadgets that were on show this year at CES.
“In Analog Devices’ case, as we are focused on high performance signal processing, we can put more of the entire signal chain on a single die. For our customers, the challenge is to provide their customers a more capable product which means a more complex product, but with a simpler interface.
“A classic example is our AD9361 chip, which is a single chip wideband radio transceiver for Software Defined Radio (SDR). It is a very capable ASSP (Application Specific Standard Products) as well as RF front end with a wide operating frequency of 70 MHz to 6 GHz.
“This chip, coupled with an all-purpose FPGA, can build a very flexible SDR operating across different radio protocols, wide frequency range and bandwidth requirements all controlled via software configuration. It finds a number of applications in wireless communication infrastructure, small cell Base stations as well as a whole range of custom radios in the industrial and aerospace businesses.”
Now, let’s see the trends for 2014!
More collaboration with customers: There is a greater emphasis on understanding customers’ end applications to provide a complete signal chain, all in a System on a Chip (SoC) or a System in a package (SiP). The relationship with our customers is changing as we move more towards ASSPs focused with few lead customers for target markets and target applications. While this has already been ongoing in the consumer industry with PCs and laptops, customers in other vertical markets like healthcare, automotive and industrial are and will collaborate more with semiconductor companies like Analog Devices to innovate at a solutions level.
More complete products: We have evolved from delivering just the silicon at a component level to delivering more complete products with more advanced packaging for various 3D chips or multi-die within a package. Our solutions now have typically much more software that makes it easier to configure or program the chips. It is a solution that is a combination of more advanced silicon, advanced packaging and more appropriate software.
With providing the complete solution, the products are more application specific and hence, the need for more collaboration with customers. For example, there may be one focused on Software Defined Radio, one for motor control, and one for vital signs monitoring for consumer health that we have launched recently.
We need it to be generic enough that multiple customers can use it, but it needs to be as tailored as possible to the customers’ needs for specific market segments. While because of the volume and standardization, availability of complete reference designs in the consumer world has been the norm, other market segments are demanding more complete products not-withstanding the huge variation in protocols and applications.
Truly global industry: The semiconductor and electronics industry has become truly global, so multiple design sites around the globe collaborate to create products. For example for Analog Devices, one of our premier design sites is our Bangalore product design center where we quite literally developed our most complex and capable chips. At the same time our customers are also global.
We see large multinational companies like GE, Honeywell, Cisco, Juniper, ABB, Schneider and many of our top strategic customers globally doing substantial system design work in Bangalore along with a multitude of India design houses. Our fastest growing region is in Asia, but we have substantial engagement with customers in North America and Europe. And our competition is also global, which means that the industry is ever moving faster as the competition is global.
Smarter design tools: The final trend worth talking about is the need for smarter design tools. As our products and our customers’ products become more complex and capable, there have to be rapidly developing design tools, for us to design them.
This cannot be done by brute force but by designing smarter and better tools. There is a lot of innovation that goes on in developing better tool suites. There is also ever more capable software that caters to a market moving from 100s of transistors to literally billions of transistors for an application.
Following a host of forecasts for 2014, it is now the turn of Applied Materials with its forecast for the year. First, I asked Om Nalamasu, senior VP, CTO, Applied Materials regarding the outlook for the global semicon industry in 2014.
Semicon outlook 2014
He said that Gartner expects the semiconductor industry to grow in mid-single digits to over $330 billion in 2014.
“In our industry – the semiconductor wafer fab equipment sector – we are at the beginning of major technology transitions, driven by FinFET and 3D NAND, and based a wide range of analyst projections, wafer fab equipment investment is expected to be up 10-20 percent in 2014. We expect to see a year-over-year increase in foundry, NAND, and DRAM investment, with logic and other spending flat to down.”
Five trends for 2014
Next, what are the top five trends likely to rule the industry in 2014?
Nalamasu said that the key trends continuing to drive technology in 2014 and beyond include 3D transistors, 3D NAND, and 3D packaging. 3D remains a central theme. In logic, foundries will ramp to 20nm production and begin early transition stages to3D finFET transistors.
With respect to 3D NAND, some products will be commercially available, but most memory manufacturers plan to crossover from planar NAND to vertical NAND starting this year. In wafer level packaging, critical mechanical and electrical characterization work is bringing the manufacturability of 3D-integrated stacked chips closer to reality.
These device architecture inflections require significant advances in precision materials engineering. This spans such critical steps as precision film deposition, precision materials removal, materials modification and interface engineering. Smaller features and atomic-level thin films also make interface engineering and process integration more critical than ever.
Driving technology innovations are mobility applications which need high performance, low power semiconductors. Smartphones, smart watches, tablets and wearable gadgets continue to propel industry growth. Our customers are engaged in a fierce battle for mobility leadership as they race to be the first to market with new products that improve the performance, battery-life, form-factor and user experience of mobile devices.
How is the global semiconductor industry managing the move to the sub 20nm era?
He said that extensive R&D work is underway to move the industry into the sub-20nm realm. For the 1x nodes, more complex architectures and structures as well as new higher performance materials will be required.
Some specific areas where changes and technology innovations are needed include new hard mask and channel materials, selective material deposition and removal, patterning, inspection, and advanced interface engineering. For the memory space, different memory architectures like MRAM are being explored.
FinFETs in 20nm!
By the way, have FinFETs gone to 20nm? Are those looking for power reduction now benefiting?
FinFET transistors are in production in the most advanced 2x designs by a leading IDM, while the foundries are in limited R&D production. In addition to the disruptive 3D architecture, finFET transistors in corporate new materials such as high-k metal gate (HKMG) that help to drastically reduce power leakage.
Based on public statements, HKMG FinFET designs are expected to deliver more than a 20 percent improvement in speed and a 30 percent reduction in power consumption compared to28nm devices. These are significant advantages for mobile applications.
Status of 3D ICs
Finally, what’s the status with 3D ICs? How is Applied helping with true 3D stacking integration?
Nalamasu replied that vertically stacked 3D ICs are expected to enter into production first for niche applications. This is due primarily to the higher cost associated with building 3D wafer-level-packaged (WLP) devices. While such applications are limited today, Applied Materials expects greater utilization and demand to grow in the future.
Applied is an industry leader in WLP, having spear-headed the industry’s development of through silicon via (TSV) technology. Applied offers a suite of systems that enable customers to implement a variety of packaging techniques, from bumping to redistribution layer (RDL) to TSV. Because of work in this area, Applied is strongly positioned to support customers as they begin to adopt this technology.
To manufacture a robust integrated 3D stack, several fundamental innovations are needed. These include improving defect density and developing new materials such as low warpage laminates and less hygroscopic dielectrics.
Another essential requirement is supporting finer copper line/spacing. Important considerations here are maintaining good adhesion while watching out for corrosion. Finally, for creating the necessary smaller vias, the industry needs high quality laser etching to replace mechanical drilling techniques.
The year 2014 is expected to be a major year for the global semiconductor industry. The industry will and continue to innovate!
Apparently, there are huge expectations from certain segments such as the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable electronics. There will likely be focus on the connected car. Executives have been stating there could be third parties writing apps that can help cars. Intel expects that technology will be inspiring optimism for healthcare in future. As per a survey, 57 percent of people believe traditional hospitals will be obsolete in the future.
Some other entries from 2013 include Qualcomm, who introduced the Snapdragon 410 chipset with integrated 4G LTE world mode for high-volume smartphones. STMicroelectronics joined ARM mbed project that will enable developers to create smart products with ARM-based industry-leading STM32 microcontrollers and accelerate the Internet of Things.
A look at the industry itself is interesting! The World Semiconductor Trade Statistics Inc. (WSTS) is forecasting the global semiconductor market to be $304 billion in 2013, up 4.4 percent from 2012. The market is expected to recover throughout 2013, driven mainly by double digit growth of Memory product category. By region, all regions except Japan will grow from 2012. Japan market is forecasted to decline from 2012 in US dollar basis due to steep Japanese Yen depreciation compared to 2012.
WSTS estimates that the worldwide semiconductor market is predicted to grow further in 2014 and 2015. According to WSTS, the global semiconductor market is forecasted to be up 4.1 percent to $317 billion in 2014, surpassing historical high of $300 billion registered in 2011. For 2015, it is forecasted to be $328 billion, up 3.4 percent.
All product categories and regions are forecasted to grow positively in each year, with the assumption of macro economy recovery throughout the forecast period. By end market, wireless and automotive are expected to grow faster than total market, while consumer and computer are assumed to remain stagnant.
Now, all of this remains to be seen!
Earlier, while speaking with Dr. Wally Rhines of Mentor, and Jaswinder Ahuja of Cadence, both emphasized the industry’s move to 14/16nm. Xilinx estimates that 28nm will have a very long life. It also shipped the 20nm device in early Nov. 2013.
In a 2013 survey, carried out by KPMG, applications markets identified as most important by at least 55 percent of the respondents were: Mobile technology – 69 percent; Consumer – 66 percent; Computing – 63 percent; Alternative/Renewal Energy – 63 percent; Industrial – 62 percent; Automotive – 60 percent; Medical – 55 percent; Wireline Communications – 55 percent.
Do understand that there is always a line between hope and forecasts, and what the end result actually turns out to be! In the meantime, all of us continue to live with the hope that the global semiconductor will carry on flourishing in the years to come. As Brian Fuller, Cadence, says, ‘the future’s in our hands; let’s not blow it!’