Taiwanese IC designers target satellite market

Allen Hsieh, Taipei; Vyra Wu, DIGITIMES Asia 0

Credit: AFP

In the burgeoning Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite market, Taiwanese manufacturers have traditionally found their niche in subcontracting component assembly and antenna integration, rather than carving out a presence in chip design.

Most LEO satellite operators opt for collaboration with international chip giants, leaving Taiwanese firms with a marginalized role. In response, Phasetrum, a player in high-frequency IC, underscores the expanding frequency band options for satellite communication coupled with Taiwan's robust semiconductor supply chain as a pivotal opportunity for RF IC development.

Observing the technological trajectory from Wi-Fi to the latest Wi-Fi 7 at 7GHz, alongside the evolution of satellite connectivity from 3GHz to the current 12, 15, 27, and 31GHz spectrums, Phasetrum anticipates future strides into the V-Band at 50GHz and potentially the E-band at 80GHz. With the diversification of frequency selections, application landscapes are broadening, spanning from Wi-Fi to satellite links, thus presenting an expanding horizon for IC design companies.

Phasetrum notes that in the current landscape, major players dominating RF IC design hail from industry behemoths like Analog Devices, with titans like Skyworks, Qorvo, and Murata reigning supreme in arenas such as 5G front-end and mmWave front-end. While the international sphere traditionally held sway in the satellite communication RF IC design arena, Phasetrum identifies the burgeoning demand for novel frequencies as an opportune moment for Taiwanese RF IC design players to assert their presence.

As semiconductor process technologies continue their upward trajectory, CMOS maturity aligns with requisite standards, easing RF design complexities, and thus empowering Taiwanese firms to navigate these waters adeptly. Moreover, advancements in algorithms, particularly in anti-interference algorithms over the past decade, have substantially enhanced transmission efficacy, fostering increased data throughput and frequency availability for wireless communications.

Key to Taiwanese RF IC design firms' foray into the satellite market lies in the abundance of semiconductor design talent and the high caliber of wafer foundries and packaging and testing facilities. Emphasizing the pivotal role of packaging in RF IC design, Phasetrum underscores the necessity for comprehensive simulation encompassing IC design, layout, and packaging, given the nuanced intricacies such as thickness, width, routing, and angles that significantly impact RF design.

Highlighting the oversight among many RF IC design firms at events like Satellite 2024, Phasetrum warns of potential challenges in signal simulation for packaging and layout despite impeccable IC design, underlining the necessity for meticulous attention to packaging nuances.

Looking ahead, Phasetrum cites the exemplary success of Starlink as the sole triumphant Ku band user, positioning the 28GHz mmWave spectrum void as a ripe opportunity for Ka band utilization in satellite communication. With strategic readiness, Phasetrum aims to capitalize on emerging opportunities as satellite operators seek bespoke solutions.