Executive Perspective: Everything’s Going Wireless, And RF Chips Are Enabling It

By Bami Bastani

Advances in technology are vital to human progress because they bring about better ways to address our needs, and they give succeeding generations a better starting point on the road toward fulfilling their potential. Just think how much easier, safer and more productive our daily lives are compared with those of our ancestors, thanks to progress in agricultural, medical, energy, transportation and other technologies. Today, the growing ability to wirelessly communicate and access information anytime, anywhere, is not only leading to new types of connected products and systems, it is driving fundamental change in how we structure our lives and interact with others. Our dependence on cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity has already become so strong that some people joke it should be given a place in psychology’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs alongside such basic requirements for life as food and water. Although that’s clearly said with tongue-in-cheek, parents whose teenagers are glued to their phones might think it’s not too much of a stretch. But this need for wireless connectivity is only beginning. Our dependence on it is about to deepen because the capabilities of cellular and Wi-Fi networks are set to expand exponentially over the next few years, opening up possibilities that were only in the realm of science fiction such as self-driving vehicles and augmented or virtual reality. One reason for this is the global effort under way to develop fifth-generation (5G) networks that offer blazing speeds and much higher data capacities than existing cellular systems. 5G networks, for which standards are being drawn right now, will enable mobile devices to have a much more prominent role on the Internet. For example, an automotive radar system isn’t much good if it sees an obstacle in the road but the network it’s on is too slow to deliver a timely alert. The much faster response times, or low latencies, of 5G networks will help to make such systems practical. Another reason our dependence on wireless connectivity is set to increase is the growing emphasis on integrating the physical world into computing systems by giving wearable devices and other objects in the environment the abilities to sense, communicate and process information. Remote health monitoring, “smart” factories, increased personal security and better inventory control are only some of the benefits that can be realized by connecting physical objects wirelessly on the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) which is taking shape.

RF ICs are the Building Blocks

The basic building blocks of advanced cellular and Wi-Fi network equipment are ultra-fast radio frequency (RF) integrated circuits. While the specifications for both 5G and IoT networks are evolving, it is clear both will require innovations in radio technologies. That, in turn, will require increasingly sophisticated RF ICs to support the new modes of operation and higher capabilities required. I am proud to say that GLOBALFOUNDRIES enjoys a pre-eminent position in the technologies needed to build RF chips for these evolving wireless applications. Our RF offerings include complete wafer foundry services for RF front ends, transceivers, high-performance power amplifiers, low-noise signal amplifiers, mixers, antenna tuners, high-speed analog and digital converters, switches, controllers, millimeter wave phased-array antenna circuitry, and other components. These are built using state-of-the-art RF silicon-on-insulator (RFSOI), silicon germanium (SiGe) BiCMOS, and RFCMOS semiconductor manufacturing processes tailored to specific RF applications. Because they are silicon-based, these technologies give customers cost-effective solutions which optimally combine performance, integration and power efficiency. GLOBALFOUNDRIES offers a complete RF solution compared to other semiconductor suppliers. Others only offer bits and pieces of silicon-based RF technology, or exotic, hard-to-integrate and expensive non-silicon alternatives. Our portfolio of RFSOI and SiGe processes span a broad range of technology nodes and include:

  • Mobile-optimized RFSOI and SiGe power amplifier (PA) technology families for cellular and Wi-Fi front-end modules in mobile devices and access points.
  • Performance-optimized SiGe technologies for demanding RF solutions across communications, optical networks, aerospace, automotive, industrial, and test-equipment applications.

RFSOI has taken the mobile world by storm for its ability to help solve the many challenges associated with ensuring that users enjoy seamless, reliable connectivity anywhere including extending mobile device battery life and minimizing dropped calls. Meanwhile, our advanced fully-depleted SOI technology can help deliver significantly lower power consumption in RF transceivers. The combination of FDSOI for transceivers and RFSOI for front-end modules enables GLOBALFOUNDRIES to offer customers a very compelling set of RF solutions, no matter how network requirements or customer architectures/partitioning may evolve. That’s important for GLOBALFOUNDRIES because RF applications account for a significant portion of our overall business. But it’s important in a larger sense, too. Wireless connectivity is helping to bring about another technological revolution that will make life better. That means the work we do here every day truly matters, because it represents real human progress.