Imec spin-offs showcased the future of communication at InnoVEX 2024

Misha Lu, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

Credit: Luceda

Luceda Photonics and Pharrowtech, both Belgium-based semiconductor startups spun off from Imec, share their visions for future communication at InnoVEX 2024 on the sideline of Computex Taipei.

Based in Leuven, Belgium, Pharrowtech was spun off from Imec in 2018 and focuses on the design and development of millimeter-wave (mmWave) RF technology. Wim van Thillo, Pharrowtech Co-founder and CEO, observed the incoming age of gigabits-per-second wireless communication and the massive business opportunities coming with it. The CEO believes that Pharrowtech's wireless platforms will simplify and accelerate the adoption of mmWave technology, and sees WiFi, Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), and AR/VR among the main application fields of the company's offerings.

Apart from reference designs and evaluation kits, Pharrowtech's main products are its CMOS-based 60 GHz RF transceiver and wireless module. The RF transceiver, known as PTR1060, offers beamforming capability, with 32 transmit and 32 receive paths along with a Tx-Rx switch.

The PTM1060, another main product, is a complete Phased Array Antenna Module embedded with the PTR1060 RFIC in a 20 × 20 mm BGA package that operates over the entire 57 GHz - 71 GHz band. When combined with Renesas' baseband processors, the module offers OEMs and ODMs ready-to-integrate or ready-to-deploy 60GHz solution. System manufacturers are also able to customize the RFM according to their own specifications.

Founded in 2014, Luceda offers the photonics design tool Luceda IPKISS, aiming to make the design of photonic chips as convenient as designing electronic chips, thus accelerating the time to market for photonic chip designers. Chang Yao-Tung, Luceda PDK engineer, pointed out at InnoVEX that the semiconductor industry is facing multiple challenges.

Moore's law is reaching its limits, a data explosion is underway, while AI applications are increasingly power-hungry. Silicon photonics, in this context, can be part of the solution.

The superior properties of light mean that photonic communication enables higher bandwidth and lower loss compared to electric communication. Apart from communication, silicon photonics can also be applied to quantum technologies, AR/VR, bio-sensing, LiDAR, and chip-to-chip interconnect, according to Chang. In addition, the CMOS-compatible nature of silicon photonics enables large-scale integration and electric-optic co-design. The latest estimate from market research firm SNS Insider indicated that the silicon photonics market will reach US$11 billion by 2030, with a 25% CAGR between 2023-2030.

The Luceda engineer emphasized the importance of getting the photonic chip design right for the first iteration. However, the current photonic design industry faces the challenge of getting a working chip design in one time, thus 2-3 design iterations are usually needed.

In comparison, the electronic chip design process results in higher yields after a few iterations. Developing a photonic chip is, in general, a long and expensive process: for one, a photonic wafer run easily costs between US$100,000 and 500,000.

The time taken from design to fabrication could take from 2-3 months, while the tapping-out and packaging process could take another 6-12 months. Luceda, with its strong design support ranging from Process Design Kit (PDK), Assembly Design Kit (ADK), to Test Design Kit (TDK), aims to realize first-time right photonic design. In an Interview with DIGITIMES Asia earlier this year, Luceda Co-Founder and CTO Pieter Dumon pointed to the increasing customer need for one design flow that includes photonics design.