''Peregrine is a key supplier of chips for the WCDMA/HSPA cell-phone market between the antenna and the RF transceiver. I don't think they are in any CDMA handsets. (This is) a market controlled by Qualcomm,’’ Strauss said.
''Most of the ‘ink’ is focused on the application processor, the baseband/modem, and, to a lesser extent, the RF transceiver,’’ Strauss said. ''Very little is written about the problem of switching (and tuning) multiple antennas among one or more RF transceivers. Peregrine is the only company offering a silicon-on-sapphire solution, which they claim offers a more complete solution, including matching and tuning circuitry along with switching. (It is said to have a) superior performance than competitive CMOS duplexers and switches.’’
But the company faces some challenges from a new class of products. ''There are new MEMS-based RF switches becoming available that address part of the problem (the switching part),’’ Strauss said. ''But to address the many different frequencies required for worldwide coverage, the requirements are becoming more challenging. The new Nokia N8, for example, supports nine different frequency bands.’’
The Nokia N8, Nokia's latest smartphone, was announced late last month. It features a 12 megapixel camera and is able to make HD-quality videos. Doubling as a portable entertainment center, the N8 enables access to Web TV services that deliver programs, news and entertainment. It supports GSM/EDGE at the 850/900/1800/1900-MHz frequency bands and WCDMA at the 850/900/1700/1900/2100-MHz bands.
It’s unclear if Peregrine has won a socket in the N8, but the company hopes to gain more traction in RF. To accomplish its goals, it is moving towards more advanced processes to reduce chip costs.
It is also altering its foundry strategy. Previously, the company had four foundry partners: Magnachip, Oki/Rohm, Sapphicon and UMC. In 2008, Sapphicon Semiconductor, a privately-funded company, acquired a fab once owned by Peregrine. That fab is located in Australia.
For the most part, these vendors are making Peregrine’s RF devices on a foundry basis, based on 150-mm wafers at geometries down to 0.25-micron. Peregrine will continue to use these foundry vendors for 0.25-micron and above.
But at 200-mm and 0.18-micron technology, the company will exclusively use and develop technology with IBM, Novak said. This development marks the first commercial use of 200-mm wafer processing for silicon-on-sapphire processes.
Collaboration between the two companies began in 2008. The companies are combining IBM’s experience in RF SOI with Peregrine’s expertise in silicon-on-sapphire. In 2007, IBM rolled out 7RF SOI, an 180-nm, SOI technology geared for RF switch applications. IBM will continue to develop and sell that technology.
The first 180-nm UltraCMOS RF devices from Peregrine have sampled to a key customer and commercial production release is expected in 2011. Initial product roadmaps include configurable RF cellular front ends in the form of high-power RF switches, tunable components, and power amplifiers. The new RF switches and tunable devices are due in 2011. A multi-mode power amp is slated for 2012.