STOCKHOLM--LM Ericsson here hopes to significantly boost its capability to integrate and reduce the cost of functions for Bluetooth and other wireless applications by teaming up with Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing Pte. Ltd. to co-develop new radio-frequency CMOS and BiCMOS technologies.
The co-development alliance was announced late Tuesday, expanding on Chartered's silicon foundry business with Ericsson Microelectronics. Singapore-based Chartered has been supplying processed wafers for mixed-signal and standard logic ICs to Ericsson, but the new agreement "moves that partnership closer into joint design as well," said Kevin Meyer, vice president of worldwide marketing at Chartered.
The non-exclusive development pact covers a period in excess of 10 years and multiple process technology generations, starting with 0.25-micron design rules. Both the RF CMOS and the BiCMOS processes will be based on and integrated into Chartered's advanced CMOS manufacturing technology for other silicon foundry customers, Meyer said.
Ericsson's engineers will work with Chartered personnel in Singapore to develop the RF CMOS technology, under the agreement. Chartered will station engineers in Ericsson's Sweden facilities to co-develop the BiCMOS capabilities.
The RF CMOS process will be developed for cost-sensitive applications, while the BiCMOS technology will be aimed at total integration of high-performance functions for wireless systems. Volume products with the RF CMOS process is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2001. The initial BiCMOS technology from joint development will become available in the third quarter of 2001. Both processes will be aimed at producing high levels of integration for system-on-chip solutions.
"By combining our two areas of competency we believe we can get to market quickly with the right product at the right cost, which is a very important element," Tom Moller, vice president and general manager for Ericsson Components, a U.S. subsidiary of the Swedish telecommunications giant based in Morgan Hill, Calif.
Ericsson Microelectronics is now producing ICs for Bluetooth wireless links between systems, but its current technology is not sufficient for high-volume, low-cost requirements in the future, Moller said. "We have to get cost down and volume up very quickly and dramatically," he said. Ericsson plans to be able to produce the jointly-developed RF CMOS and BiCMOS designs in its own fab but "Chartered will be the primarily volume manufacturer." Moller added. "Basically, we will have mirrored processes."
For Chartered, the expanded relationship with Ericsson will help the Singapore foundry company increase its technology offerings to the expanding wireless marketplace. "It build on our CMOS baseline process and allows us to tune RF CMOS development for wireless application requirements, like Bluetooth," Meyer explained. "It gives us a systems partner to take and finish off that additional RF component to the baseline CMOS."
The co-developed RF CMOS technology will become "plug-in module to Chartered's baseline CMOS process, similar to the way analog, mixed-signal, and embedded memory (flash and SRAM) are used today, said the foundry company's VP of marketing. Ericsson will also help boost Chartered's BiCMOS capabilities, which today are limited to 0.6-micron design rules and above.
"The goal is to initially target quarter-micron technology and to consider other components of our 0.18-micron processes as we work towards the specification that are necessary in meeting the Bluetooth standard," Meyer said. "Between the two of us, we have quiet a bit of capability. Ericsson is one of the leaders and definers of the Bluetooth standard and is partnering on many different fronts for Bluetooth technology as well as wireless communications."
Bluetooth is an RF specification for a short-range, point-to-multipoint voice and data transfer developed jointly by Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Nokia, and Toshiba. It is being positioned as a potential standard to link mobile computers, mobile phones and other portable devices to the Internet. On Tuesday, the Ericsson Mobile Communications subsidiary struck a partnership with Philips Semiconductor in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, to support development and manufacturing of chips for Bluetooth applications as part of an effort to expand the base of components available for the wireless standard (see Dec. 7 story). --J. Robert Lineback reporting from the U.S.