Agere Jumps Into Power Amplifier Dogfight

Agere Systems Monday said it is officially entering the wireless power amplifier market by offering 21 new transistors for base stations .

The Allentown, Pa.-based integrated circuit maker sells other chips for base stations but has never sold power transistors used to manage cell phone calls. With its new offerings, Agere said it is targeting sales of its product to manufacturers of base stations who also build their own amplifiers, as well as companies that manufacture amplifiers that are sold to third-generation (3G), 2.5 generation (2.5G), and second-generation (2G) base station manufacturers. The new transistors are expected to go head-to-head with similar offerings by Philips Electronics and Motorola , which controls about half of the base station market.

The hook, according to Agere, is that its power amplifier transistors can enable much cooler, smaller, and less expensive wire less base stations than are possible using any other RF power transistor technology. The company also claims its technology could shrink the size and shift the location of today’s typical base stations — about the size of a backyard tool shed and installed on the ground — to the size of a suitcase and installed above the ground on wireless antenna towers.

The new product family also features laterally diffused metal oxide semiconductor (LDMOS) process technology, generally used in RF power transistors.

“The wireless transistor market represents an important new growth opportunity for Agere, and with our technological breakthroughs, we believe we are poised for success in this space,” said Agere executive vice president Sohail Khan. “By delivering significant cost reductions, our new products will enable wireless service providers to accelerate delivery of lower-cost, feature-rich, high data rate services to cell phone users, such as video streaming, instant messaging and gaming.”

The key to improving the base stations, according to Agere, is lower transistor temperature through ultra-thin silicon wafers and high-density, low resistance electrical connections.

Agere says thicker chips tend be warmer because they don’t conduct heat as well as thin chips. The company said its new transistors are designed to be 30 percent shorter in length and are 50 percent thinner than other transistors. These thinner and shorter transistors get rid of heat more effectively than thicker and longer transistors. Lower temperature transistors can cut in half the number of cooling fans in base stations compared with hotter transistor products. Reducing the number of fans also reduces noise pollution.

By using high-density, low resistance electrical connections, Agere said it is improving the transistor’s performance when amplifying wireless signals. In tune with that technology, Agere claims to have created a transistor with reduced resistance and parasitic capacitance. This leads to transistors with higher gain and efficiency, two key parameters in selecting transistors for use in wireless power amplifiers.

The transistors are shipping in sample quantities and are expected to ship in production quantities in the third quarter of this year. Prices for Agere’s transistors range from $12 to $207 in quantities of 10,000. More than 20 companies are evaluating Agere’s transistors.

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