Prospects for RF MEMS
Rick Nelson, Editorial Director- July 1, 2011
The short answer is yes, RF MEMS devices are commercially viable. Back in 2009, Omron was already selling its 2SMES-01 10-GHz RF MEMS switches into high-throughput ATE applications. Of course, even then, RF MEMS switches faced competition from other devices including Peregrine Semiconductor’s Ultra-CMOS SOS (silicon on sapphire) devices.
Better questions—and in fact the ones addressed during the panel discussion—include, “Are RF MEMS a reality for my application, and if so, do they represent the best choice?”
For Agilent Technologies, RF MEMS devices with the performance demanded by the company’s instrument divisions are not yet reality. Robert Shimon, a manager and principal engineer at Agilent’s Santa Rosa, CA, facility, said Agilent would gladly purchase commercially available RF MEMS if they met performance specs, such as bandwidths to 67 GHz, 100-million-cycle reliability, and 10-dBm power-handling capability. He said the question regarding devices meeting such performance specs is when, not if, and he predicted they will be populating Agilent boxes within five years.
Tomonori Seki, a senior manager and principal engineer at Omron, took the stage to tout Omron’s success with its 2SMES-01 devices, which he said offer insertion loss of less than 1 dB at 10 GHz. He said a more compact version for mobile applications is under development and will sample this summer.
Dylan Kelly, a manager and principal engineer at Peregrine, said his firm’s SOS devices are already in mobile applications; for handsets, he said, SOS is no longer an exotic technology but is now mainstream. He said that if you need low loss and high frequencies (beyond 10 GHz), then you want to consider RF MEMS. Otherwise, he said, SOS will meet your application needs.
Weighing in on the side of MEMS were Art Morris, CTO of WiSpry, and Dennis Yost, president and CEO of Cavendish Kinetics. Morris said WiSpry has delivered thousands of tunable RF MEMS components and is ready to ramp up volumes in 2012. Yost said his company will also see volume shipments of its tunable-antenna RF MEMS devices in 2012 and will pursue additional applications in 2013.
Of course, just because a MEMS device meets your specs does not mean that the device is the best option for your application. As Julio Costa, director of technology development at RFMD put it, handset companies, for example, are not waiting for RF MEMS. They will continue to make handsets regardless. The issue MEMS makers must address, he said, is whether they can provide a viable solution that offers a performance improvement over what customers can currently get.
The consensus of the panel, organized by Gabriel M. Rebeiz of the University of California at San Diego and N. Scott Barker of the University of Virginia, was that MEMS makers will rise to the challenges. Concluded Yost of Cavendish Kinetics, “Five years from now, no one will be arguing about RF MEMS.” T&MW