IBM Expands Chip Building For Wireless

IBM Thursday said it is expanding its chip manufacturing services to focus more on chips used for wireless devices such as cell phones, wireless networks, automotive sensors and storage devices.

The company said its plant in Burlington, Vt. is being modified to accommodate processors that chips used in these “radio frequency (RF)” and “mixed signal” applications – where radio waves are converted to digital electronic signals. IBM said the first round of chips produced with the new technologies won’t debut until next year.

The demand for faster, cheaper wireless chips is growing at a breakneck pace. The marketplace for these integrated circuits is estimated to be over $30 billion in 2003, and is becoming an even larger share of the overall semiconductor market, increasing from 17.5 percent in 2003 to 18.8 percent in 2007, according to semiconductor industry analyst group iSuppli. And while IBM is no stranger to wireless technology — the company boasts a wide RF and mixed signal foundry portfolio — Big Blue is not alone in the space either. The legacy in this space belongs to wireless giants like Motorola , Texas Instruments and QUALCOMM , even Intel has thrown its weight around and begun to capture markeshare.

IBM says its edge is that its fabrication plants use specialized manufacturing techniques that lead to better performance and lower power consumption.

“We’ve built a portfolio of the most advanced foundry technologies for wireless applications,” said James Doyle, vice president, foundry services, IBM Microelectronics Division. “With this announcement, we are demonstrating yet again IBM’s intent to bring our most advanced technologies to bear for our customers.”

The new offerings, named CMOS 7RF , BiCMOS 7WL and BiCMOS 7HP, span traditional complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) and silicon germanium (SiGe)-based bipolar technologies, extending down to circuit sizes as small as 180-nanometers (or billionths of a meter).

The company says CMOS 7RF is ideal for low-cost wireless applications such as Bluetooth technologies, handsets and RF identification tags. The transistors support analog RF-compatible models. This technology offers a wide range of optional passive features that allow for improved analog designs. The design kit and design tools match those available for BICMOS 7WL to streamline migration of designs from CMOS 7RF to BiCMOS 7WL.

Alternatively, IBM says BiCMOS 7WL is best suited for higher performance wireless applications like local area networks and cellular phones. This offering uses IBM’s silicon germanium (SiGe) technology with deep trench isolation and a partially self-aligned bipolar structure. The use of copper wiring at the first metal level and aluminum wiring at the remaining metal levels, along with other innovative processing techniques, reduces the product complexity and processing time compared to standard BiCMOS products.

In addition, the company says its BiCMOS 7HP series incorporates a high-performance SiGe bipolar device optimized for high-speed or low-power applications. IBM says the processor is ideally suited to applications in the 40- to 100-GHz frequency space, such as fiber optic transceivers, test instrumentation and automotive proximity sensors.

“Our first silicon 7HP hardware returned from the fab meeting production quality standards, which speaks highly of IBM’s new process and ensures that we are able to get these next-generation ICs into production quickly,” said Jack Hurt, Tektronix fellow and director, foundry relations, Tektronix. “We are seeing good correlation with the modeling, and other testing results have been extremely positive at this stage of the implementation.”

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