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IBM Creates 350 GHz Transistor

IBM Monday said it has produced a new silicon germanium (SiGe) transistor that breaks all previous known speed records and should breathe new life into the wireless hardware sector.

Scientists at the company's Burlington, Vt. labs say they have tweaked previous IBM transistor designs with new SiGe bipolar technology to reach speeds of 350GHz, which is 65 percent faster than ones currently on the market. Before today, the title of "fastest silicon-based transistor" belonged to IBM's 210GHz SiGe heterojunction bipolar transistor, which it released in May 2001.

The company said the new transistor, a key component in microchips, is designed for use in cable and DSL modems, wireless devices and automobile telematics systems, but not PCs. IBM said this is its fifth generation of its SiGe technology, which it developed in 1989.

There are faster transistors based on gallium arsenide and indium phosphide, but since IBM's new SiGe bipolars are based in silicon, the company said it is compatible with standard complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) transistors.

"And because they are in CMOS, this is gong to open up some new opportunities," said IBM Manager of Silicon Germanium David Harame. "Manufacturers have been asking for faster transistors to make things like 77GHz collision for radar possible. And silicon germanium is no more expensive to produce than making a silicon transistor.

As to the bipolar design, IBM said the electrons travel vertically, so the speed can be improved by reducing the height - rather than the width - of the transistor.

"This new transistor shows there is a real road map in place with silicon germanium," said Harame. "We're showing forward progress in wireless applications including cellular telephone amplifiers.

IBM said is new transistors should lead to the delivery of 150 GHz wireless chips in about two years and support the Sonet 160-Gbit/second optical networking standard and higher-frequency wireless applications. IBM is currently working with QUALLCOMM , Ericsson , Motorola and AMCC on such designs.

Big Blue leads the pack when it comes to SiGe transistors. Research firm IC Insights in its "2002 McClean Report," the firm estimates that SiGe sales totaled $320 million in 2001 and are projected to grow to about $2.7 billion by 2006. IBM has already shipped over 100 million SiGe chips and owned more than 80 percent of total 2001 SiGe business. IBM is facing increasing competition from Intel and Conexant Systems .

IBM said it will present details of the technology in a paper, titled "SiGe HBTs with Cut-off Frequency Near 350 GHz" at the International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) in San Francisco next month.