RF MEMS tuned for growth, shows smartphone win

January 9, 2012 — The new Samsung Focus Flash Windows smartphone includes a radio frequency micro electro mechanical system (RF MEMS), marking the first known use of RF MEMS in a volume commercial product, IHS reports. This will start off a 200x expansion of the RF MEMS industry through 2015, the analyst firm predicts.

WiSpry Inc. supplied the RF MEMS in Samsung’s phone, which launched in the US last November, according to the IHS iSuppli Teardown Service.

See WiSpry’s comments on the design win here.

The IHS Focus Flash teardown found a MEMS-based antenna tuning module (WiSpry A2101) in a die-on-LGA (land grid array) package near the antenna connectors. The tunable impedance match (TIM) device comprises a network of inductors and WiSpry’s CMOS-integrated, digitally tunable and low-loss MEMS capacitors. WiSpry’s single-chip design integrates logic circuits/serial interface for control, on‐board high-voltage charge pump and high-voltage MEMS drivers, together with fully encapsulated digital MEMS capacitors on a single chip.

WiSpry is leading the RF MEMS pack with its Samsung win. Other companies targeting this market include TDK-EPC, Sony, Omron, RFMD, and the start-ups Cavendish-Kinetics and DelfMEMS.

RF MEMS can be used to reduce signal interruptions and dropped calls, increase data transmission rates, and improve design and power efficiency. IHS expects other cellphone designs to adopt RF MEMS now.

Also read: RF MEMS to explode, solve phone antenna problems

Year 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
USD millions 0.72 16.1 45.7 96.5 149.5
Figure. Global forecast of revenue generated by sales of RF MEMS for cellphones. SOURCE: IHS iSuppli January 2012.

Global sales of RF MEMS components will increased from $720,000 in 2011 to $150 million in 2015, up by a factor of 200. The potential for RF MEMS-enabled smartphones has been touted by suppliers for "nearly a decade," noted Jérémie Bouchaud, senior principal analyst, MEMS and sensors for IHS. In mid-2010, cellphone makers started to look for signal reception enhancers, after the infamous iPhone 4 antenna problems. Until then, RF MEMS had primarily found low-volume adoption for years in instrumentation products.

There are multiple direct benefits of using RF MEMS to tune and match the antenna for the network operators, cellphone makers and users:

  • They mitigate the signal dropout issue caused by user handholds (the "death grip" failing of the iPhone 4).
  • Antenna tuning can boost data rates by as much as 40% with LTE 4G standard phones.
  • RF MEMS enables cellphones to use smaller, thinner antennas with equal or greater efficiency than larger ones.
  • Network operators could recognize major savings on new wireless infrastructure deployment.

RF MEMS also efficiently implement numerous standards and are one way to cope with rising smartphone data usage. In conventional cellphone RF architectures, multiple standards and functions coexist with multiple parallel RF paths. This architecture is not adapted to the evolution of mobile handsets, since it raises the number of components, size and cost, as well as the power consumption of mobile handsets. New, reconfigurable architectures are required to increase the functionality of phones while keeping size, cost, and power consumption low. Antenna tuning and antenna matching via RF MEMS are among the solutions and the most popular approach.

Beyond RF MEMS, other technologies are being offered for cellphone antenna-tuning applications. Paratek Microwave Inc.’s barium strontium titanate (BST) tunable integrated circuits have gone into a handful of phones, starting in June 2011. Peregrine Semiconductor Corp.’s DuNE antenna tuning devices, based on its silicon-on-sapphire switch technology, also shipped in one cellphone since December 2011. Gallium arsenide (GaN)-based switches and tuners are being sampled by other vendors. Also read: GaN branches out from military apps

For more detail, see the IHS iSuppli upcoming special report, H1 2012 "RF MEMS Switches and Varactors" and the imminent teardown report on the Samsung Focus Flash Windows Smartphone. IHS (NYSE:IHS) provides information and insight on energy and power; design and supply chain; defense, risk and security; environmental, health and safety (EHS) and sustainability; country and industry forecasting; and commodities, pricing and cost. Learn more at www.ihs.com.

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