SAN JOSE, Calif. — IBM is ramping up new silicon-on-insulator and silicon germanium processes, aiming to increase its share of the foundry business for RF chips. Many of the components are traditionally made in more exotic gallium arsenide processes.
The efforts underscore IBM's deep expertise in process technology. But they come at a time when the unit is operating under the cloud of reports the corporation is considering a sale of its chip division.
Both the new processes run in IBM's Burlington, Vt., fab that solely does foundry work. The 200 mm wafer fab once made processors and related chips for IBM's high-end servers, but that work has moved on to IBM's 300 mm facility in East Fishkill, N.Y.
The Burlington fab supports many flavors of CMOS, silicon-on-insulator (SOI), and silicon germanium (SiGe) processes for a wide variety of customers. It is trying to focus on fewer recipes, like its SOI process for making RF chips, a process that now represents the majority and fastest-growing part of its business.
IBM provides no details of the size of the fab or its revenues. However it does say it has sold a total of nearly 7 billion SOI RF chips for handsets and base stations since it started making the parts about four years ago -- 3 billion of them in the last year.
In interviews with four technical and marketing experts from Burlington, none would comment on the impact of the rumored sale of the division. All are veterans of IBM, parts of small, elite teams doing deep technical work in the area of analog components for the rapidly growing mobile sector.
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