Peregrine Semiconductor announced on September 15 ’09 that it had shipped its 500 millionth UltraCMOS (CMOS on SoS / silicon-on-sapphire) integrated circuit
. Peregrine Semi’s successful line of RF switches for cellular handsets made up most of the units shipped. In spite of the impressive number of switches that Peregrine has shipped, the latest figure reflects a softening of demand
for Peregrine’s products.
Sapphire substrates eliminate bulk parasitics, allowing fabrication of CMOS ICs with higher Q passives than standard CMOS. SoS also improves the radiation hardness of CMOS circuits, which Peregrine has exploited by developing high-reliability, high-ASP, space qualified RF switches, integer-n PLLs, step attenuators and prescalers. As attractive as these devices are from a revenue generating perspective, the majority of Peregrine’s volume and probably sales came from its RF switches for handsets, which the company sells primarily in die form to antenna switch module (ASM) makers.
Peregrine’s RF switches use a MOSFET switch topology similar to that used in GaAs p-HEMT switches, with comparable levels of performance, but CMOS allows the on-chip integration of the switch logic driver. In contrast, most GaAs RF switches use a separate CMOS decoder chip, which either requires a separate package or a two-chip package.
In 2005, Peregrine gained traction in UMTS handsets with switches having a claimed third order input intercept point (IIP3) above 70 dBm
, a bit better than GaAs switches available at the time, reducing interference between the W-CDMA and GSM / EDGE radios in the UMTS handset from harmonic distortion in the switch. By mid-2008, Peregrine switch production passed 4 million units per week, and shipments passed 250 million units for 2008 as a whole. Comparing cumulative shipments announced by Peregrine since 2005, it appears that shipments in 2009 will at best reach 160 million units, well below 2008.
Three possible explanations
for the apparent decline in Peregrine’s 2009 shipments come to mind:
1. A decline in the handset market itself. The Strategy Analytics Wireless Device Strategies service projects about a 10 percent drop in the handset market in 2009 compared to 2008;
2. GaAs has displaced CMOS SoS in ASMs. To our knowledge, this has not occurred to any significant extent;
3. Competition from GaAs PA-switch modules that use GaAs switches has cut into the market for CMOS SoS switches.
The third possibility, we believe, explains most of the decline in Peregrine’s shipments.
Does this establish a trend, and does this mean that Peregrine faces more declines in shipments, followed by acquisition at a bargain-basement price or liquidation?
Peregrine's main application for its switches, ASMs, looks like a good alternative and sometimes a complement to PA-switches for the coming generation of UMTS and LTE mobile devices. These mobile devices will support even more bands and modes, and so far no single front-end architectural approach using just PA-switches or just ASMs plus PAs has emerged as the best.
New handsets with more bands plus connectivity options like Wi-Fi could also benefit immensely from the improved antenna performance possible with a tunable impedance match between the RF switch and the antenna. Peregrine’s “DUNE” RF tuning capacitors, while not yet proven in high volumes, offer a possible solution to this, and a way forward for Peregrine.
For more information on Peregrine Semiconductor this topic, see Peregrine Shipment Milestone Reflects Softer Handset Demand
, RF Architecture Shifts, published by Strategy Analytics in October, 2009. See http://www.strategyanalytics.com/default.aspx?mod=ReportAbstractViewer&a0=5084
More information on the demand for ASMs and RF switches can be found in Handset & Cellular Radio Component Sales Forecast 2009
, Excel Data Table, published by Strategy Analytics on 7 Oct 2009. See http://www.strategyanalytics.com/default.aspx?mod=ReportAbstractViewer&a0=5056
More information on antennas and tunable components for mobile devices can found in Antennas For Mobile Devices: New Technologies, New Opportunities
, 13 July 2009. See http://www.strategyanalytics.com/default.aspx?mod=ReportAbstractViewer&a0=4868