REDWOOD CITY, Calif. Intel Corp. is offering to a select handful of customers its first microelectromechanical systems product, a semi-custom cell phone RF front-end module. The effort is a small part of Intel's larger goal of moving as much of the cellphone silicon chain to digital CMOS technology.
"Intel has been working on MEMS technology for as long as four years but we didn't have an application for it. About six months ago we decided we could fabricate these front-end modules," said Sam Arditi, general manager of Intel's cellular and handheld group.
The modules integrate about 40 passives, reducing space requirements by as much as two-thirds. Customers can design their own module architecture based on an Intel library of resistor, capacitor and filter component designs.
Intel has taped out for customers its first modules. Future modules will include low-end switches. The company is still researching whether it will be able to include high-end transmit/receive switches and SAW filters.
"We saw this as a low risk product that could easily justify itself and we are starting to offer it to key customers," said Arditi who spoke at the Wireless Ventures conference here. "We haven't announced this yet because we don't yet see it as a broad offering such as our Bulverde applications processor for which we already have tens of customers," he added.
The MEMS devices are being made at Intel's eight-inch Fab 8 in Israel based on an older 0.35 or 0.25 process technology. Intel walled off half the fab so it can use gold as a high-Q material in the process.
Separately Intel's research group is studying how it can move more RF processing into the digital CMOS domain.
In a keynote here, Arditi described plans for Hermon, Intel's next-generation integrated cellular processor. That chip will integrate the Bulverde application processor formally launched last week as well as a baseband processor and flash.
The Hermon chip will bring Pentium-class performance to cell phones and could help reduce component count which today hovers at about 200 parts in phones with 286-class performance, said Arditi.