Executive viewpoints: 2017 outlook

2017: The mobile and digital revolution is driven by innovative materials

PAUL BOUDRE - SOITEC16-024C webPaul Boudre, CEO of Soitec

For decades, electronics have contributed tremendously to the advancement of human lives, with PCs and smart phones serving as prevalent examples. But now we are at the beginning of enormous digital transformations that will revolutionize all aspects of society. It starts with IoT, autonomous driving, 5G communications and cloud computing extending to virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence. These trends have been evident over the last few years, but 2016 brought many of them into reality. In 2017, we will see a strong acceleration in the technologies’ maturity and widespread adoption.

Creating disruptive applications requires more than just increased computing speed. Very low power consumption, integration of analog and sensing functions, immunity to radiation and the ability to combine silicon and non-silicon materials must be achieved – and at costs enabling mass markets.

Semiconductor materials are vitally important in meeting these objectives. Now more than ever, engineered materials are enabling the device-level performance to address these challenges and opportunities. For example, radio-frequency silicon-on-insulator (RF-SOI) and fully depleted SOI (FD-SOI) have become industry standards for wireless and digital applications, respectively.

As a substrate engineering innovator and supplier, we are working with our customers ─ and with the customers of our customers ─ to understand and anticipate their needs. We must provide solutions that help them differentiate themselves by creating truly innovative, breakthrough products for both established and emerging markets.

Using RF-SOI substrates, front-end modules have brought 4G LTE capabilities to all mobile devices. This technology will remain instrumental in attaining 5G specifications in sub-6-GHz frequency bands while other types of SOI engineered substrates will be used for millimeter-wave applications. In 2017, we are expecting significant advancements in defining material solutions for 5G applications.

On the digital side, FD-SOI brings unique value propositions of PPA (Power – Performance – Area) with analog integration capabilities, all at very competitive costs. Staying planar also allows designers to really integrate RF, analog and digital functions in one device. That’s an untouchable advantage for FD-SOI in key mobility, industrial and automotive applications. With this technology being widely adopted across all mobile applications at multiple technology nodes by leading foundries, including Samsung and GlobalFoundries, 2017 will be the year of FD-SOI.

Credible IoT customers are emerging, and the first consumer product is a proof point of what’s coming. The latest GPS from Sony is already available in a smart watch. Built on 28nm FD-SOI, it cuts power consumption by a factor of 10. This new GPS will go into watches, as well as home and industrial applications.

Chip reliability is one of the top requirements in cars. This is where FD-SOI brings a major differentiation versus other semiconductor technologies. Leaders in automotive semiconductors such as NXP and Mobileye have been the first adopters of FD-SOI based chips. In 2017, we will see end products from these companies reaching the market as well as a big upsurge in design announcements on FD-SOI from many fabless companies with strong support from leading foundries.

In addition, the Smart Cut™ layer-transfer standard technology used in making SOI wafers also can bring compound materials into the silicon world. This approach will soon open doors for new applications including power electronics for electric cars, displays for virtual reality, photonics communication for data centers and many others.

In 2017, we will see even more collaborative efforts from market leaders to develop new material solutions for emerging applications destined to reach mass markets in a few years. With SOI and other engineered substrates enabling a new wave of products, our industry and the global electronics market will continue to thrive in the new age of materials.

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