ST Goes 5G…on Multiple Fronts

BARCELONA — STMicroelectronics, not among the “usual suspects” indulging in 5G chips, is nonetheless making its move into this nascent market.ST’s approach to 5G opportunities is cautious but methodical. First up, it’s going to advance its collaboration with Macom (Lowell, Massachusetts) on GaN-on-silicon, focusing initially on the telecom base-station market. Separately, ST is also angling to develop solutions for repeaters and small cells, which are sorely needed in 5G mmWave networks.The newly announced agreement with Macom calls for ST to expand its 150-mm GaN-on-silicon production capacity this year at fabs in Catania, Sicily, and possibly move to 200 mm as demand picks up. GaN-on-silicon — instead of the GaN-on-SiC promoted by competitors — will be critical for OEMs to build out a new generation of high-performance 5G networks, according to Macom. It can offer “better performance and cost,” and now that a deal with ST is in place, GaN-on-silicon can provide a “high-volume supply chain,” according to the company.GaN Performance — Cost — Scalability (Source: Macom)
Macom, targeting a more than 50% share in the base-station market, is hoping to “have capabilities to service up to 85% of the global 5G network buildout,” John Croteau, president and CEO of Macom, said in a statement.During ST’s presentation at Mobile World Congress this week, Marco Monti, president of ST’s automotive and discrete components group, expressed ST’s similarly strong commitment to GaN-on-silicon.When demands for GaN-on-silicon expand further — including mobile — Monti said that ST is ready to move forward with “double-sourcing.” This will team Catania 8-inch and Singapore 8-inch fabs for flexibility and extra volume.ST is scaling GaN-on-silicon manufacturing capacity for broader opportunities. (Source: ST Microelectronics)
Beyond being a foundry
Macom has a small fab of its own, but it needs ST as a strategic partner to achieve its own ambitions. The GaN-on-silicon expansion is believed to involve joint investment from both companies, but neither are disclosing financial arrangements.Under the deal, ST provides Macom with foundry service, with base-station chips from ST fabs sold as Macom ICs. But there are more layers to the partnership, according to ST. On one layer, ST licensed Macom’s IP on GaN-on-silicon manufacturing. On another layer, ST is closely working with Macom on GaN-on-silicon chip designs.The collaboration opens the door for ST to use GaN-on-silicon technology in market segments that do not appeal to Macom. For example, ST might develop GaN-on-silicon chips for automotive in the medium-term future.During ST’s analyst/press event here, ST also alluded to its potential interest in developing GaN-on-silicon RF power amplifiers for handsets.Although a mass market opportunity for 5G handsets may not arrive until well into the 2020s, ST believes that GaN-on-silicon has a “huge cost advantage” compared to traditional GaAs and its competitors’ GaN-on-SiC. ST has initiated discussions with “key market players,” according to its presentation.(Source: STMicroelectronics)
5G mmWave repeaters, small cells
At Mobile World Congress, ST teased its upcoming announcement about getting into the 5G mmWave network infrastructure market. While details remain sketchy, Claude Dardanne, president of ST’s microcontrollers & digital ICs group, discussed how ST’s internal expertise — accumulated from past experience in the set-top box and satellite communications businesses — can be applied to 5G mmWave.