LONDON – Qualcomm Inc. (San Diego, Calif.) has introduced a CMOS radio frequency IC family, the RF360, for use in the mobile phones that is expected to validate and stimulate the use of CMOS for multiband power amplifiers.
Market research firm Strategy Analytics estimates that the cellular front-end RF chip market is worth $5 billion annually.
"Qualcomm is the first to launch a CMOS PA [power amplifier] alternative to GaAs-based multiband multimode PAs for mid- to high-tier 3G/4G smartphones, a phone segment formerly the exclusive domain of GaAs PAs. Envelope tracking power management enables this, and we expect adoption of CMOS PAs from Qualcomm and others to accelerate in mobile phones as a result," said Christopher Taylor, director of an RF and wireless component market research service at Strategy Analytics.
The market research firm said that gallium-arsenide is not yet out of the market but that vendors will have to innovate or move to silicon CMOS as such companies as Skyworks and RFMD have done.
Qualcomm announced the RF360 family at Mobile World Congress last month. The fabless chip giant claims that the chip family is the first to over a comprehensive, system-level solution that addresses cellular radio frequency band fragmentation and enables for the first time a single, global 4G LTE design for mobile devices.
According to Strategy Analytics (Boston), Qualcomm's RF360 RF360 front-end subsystem announcement ignited a flurry of activity at MWC, with no fewer than 10 companies releasing new details about how they will support envelope tracking (ET) to enable better LTE devices. "Adoption of ET in LTE handsets has suddenly moved about 18 months closer to reality, with first products likely to appear by late 2013 or early 2014 in production mobile devices," the firm said in a report.
Strategy Analytics said the new PAs and ET from Qualcomm’s GaAs-oriented competitors will dilute Qualcomm’s new presence in the RF front end, but widely available ET will also improve prospects for CMOS PAs, challenging the dominance of leading GaAs-based PA suppliers Skyworks, RFMD and others.
-- Dylan McGrath contributed to this story from San Francisco.