RF-SOI Enabling 5G and Smarter IoT Applications

By Peter Rabbeni

EDI CON China 2016, held in Beijing from April 19-21, has scheduled 80 paper sessions, 30 workshops, seven keynotes, with a new track on silicon-on-insulator (SOI) semiconductor technology. On Tuesday April 19th, I will deliver the keynote talk on the emergence of SOI in the RF/microwave industry.

Today, smart phones and tablets contain radio frequency (RF) front-end modules (FEM), which are typically built with power amplifiers (PAs), switches, tunable capacitors, and filters. Technologies such as radio frequency silicon-on-insulator (RF SOI) help mobile devices tune and retain cellular signals– giving wireless devices consistently strong, clear connections from more places.


The mobile market continues to favor RF SOI, as it delivers low insertion loss, reduced harmonics and high linearity over a wide frequency range at a cost-effective price point. RF SOI is a win-win technology option that can improve performance and data speeds in smartphones and tablets, and it is expected to play a key role in the Internet of Things as well.

For RF chipmakers, it brings the benefits of silicon design and integration to the RF front end, and is a low cost alternative to other expensive technologies which lack the scale and integration capability that RF SOI can bring to RF front end module solutions. And, for designers, RF SOI offers design flexibility by integrating multiple RF components onto a single chip without losing valuable circuit board real estate.

This integration enables fewer chips and smaller footprints for mobile applications, that allows mobile makers to design less complex radios with the advanced features their customers expect. Mobile devices that exploit RF SOI technologies for RF front end applications benefit from the same or better linearity and insertion loss against competing technologies, which translates to longer battery life, less dropped calls and higher data speeds.

More good news for RF market players, technologies like FD-SOI have unique properties and capabilities that can enable RF circuit innovation, and achieve integration levels never before seen in silicon-based technologies. The key to this is the exploitation of the low voltage operating capability and well-bias features of FDSOI, dynamic control of Vdd and the use of well-bias techniques can not only help reduce overall power consumption but can be used as a means to optimize RF circuit operation. This is not something that can be easily done in bulk technologies.

When designing a complex SoC, another advantage is the ability to integrate multiple functionalities that results in a smaller form factor and simpler packaging which is much more cost-effective and in terms of power, more efficient for IoT applications, which is absolutely essential in order to meet the economic requirements of this market and keep pace with evolving network challenges. Although emerging standards such as 5G are still a number of years away, we are already seeing interest in what advantages technologies such as FDSOI/RFSOI can bring in meeting the challenges of systems which need to deliver high speeds/bandwidth at low power.

There is no doubt that demand on our networks will continue to grow. Now more than ever, the underlying communication networks matter and the need for speed is immediate. The mobile world is calling and it’s time for device manufacturers and component designers to capitalize on design flexibility and enablement and supply (capacity assurance) that RF SOI offers.