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Mobile manufacturers move to integrated RF modules

Posted: 24 Jun 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:RF module  handset designs  RF front-end components  integration 

In the highly competitive mobile handset business, manufacturers face continuous pressure to deliver sleek form factors with ever more functionality in increasingly compressed time frames. Some designers are looking to highly integrated radio components to meet today's challenging market demands.

Integration sounds simple enough, but it should not just be a euphemism for sticking things together that don't work together by any means possible—be it duct tape or sheer force of will.

Real integration offers handset manufacturers an elegant technology solution that offers benefits beyond reclaiming pc board real estate; Built properly with state of the art technological advances, highly integrated RF modules solutions can reduce engineering effort and design cycle times while offering improved radio performance.

With constant pressure on space, functionality and time to market, handset manufacturers are moving over to integrated modules in their handset designs.

Size Matters

The original Motorola ''brick'' phone measured a whopping 8.3- x 4.5- by 19.5-cm and weighed 670 grams. In a retrospective tear down by Portelligent for EE Times in May 2006, the RF components, including a power amplifier and duplex filter, were estimated to be more than 100 times the weight and volume of the modern equivalent.

Since the very first mobile phone call, RF manufacturers have been working to reduce the size of their footprint while increasing performance of the components. The evolution of CMOS processes has enabled handsets manufacturers to include even more processing power in today's phones than was available in earlier computers.

And with this comes built-in extras like Bluetooth, cameras, FM radios, GPS, MP3 players, e-mail multimedia and web browsers, big displays, full text keyboards, WiFi, even TV receivers and video capability.

To carry the increasing burden of data throughput needed to support these features, Multimode/Multiband radios are becoming more and more prevalent inside phones further compounding already tight quarters. This rapid progress is truly awesome but all of these features are vying for pc board space while the form factor continues to decrease in size.

Handset manufacturers are looking for every possibility to trim the size of the components needed to make the rich features work. One way to save space is to integrate the RF front-end components. Rather than using three separate components such as a PA, duplexer, and transceiver, handset manufacturers are turning to highly integrated modules to provide the functionality of previously separate products.

Not only must these modules offer size reductions, but also maintain high levels of performance. The technology packed into today's high throw count switches means they not only offer a smaller footprint but also service multiple radio bands from one antenna, in effect, reducing the overall footprint by another order of magnitude.

Time-to-market

Simplifying the complexities

Highly integrated modules offer handset makers a more streamlined solution than do discrete components. Fewer RF front-end components lowers handset manufacturers cost of inventory management through a smaller bill-of-materials and reduces the number of external vendors to manage and rely on for their assemblies.

Integrated modules also mean lower design costs as there are fewer components to qualify and instead of testing and qualifying components from various RF front-end vendors. Integrated modules come preassembled and tested with optimised internal interfaces reducing the chance for design errors as well as delivering the performance.

Together, these attributes combine to offer handset manufacturers a faster time to market. In this highly competitive business where new designs are churning all the time, simplification through the use of integration may mean the difference between a market hit or miss.

Flexible platform design

Regardless of whether building a flip or slider, for a given platform, handset manufacturers can utilise the same RF front-end modules. Re-using the same qualified modules ensures the same quality assurance and reliability measurements will work across form factor, streamlining the development process and enabling quicker design turns. Using integrated PA/duplexer modules with a standardised footprint makes it possible to drop-in modules for various frequency bands adding great flexibility where a platform needs to be configured to operate in different geographical regions.

Interoperability & Performance

In high-end feature rich phones, many of the extras are known battery hogs. Even in ultra-low cost phones often used in the emerging markets, prolonging the battery life or reducing the battery size and cost continues to be a high priority. By optimising the interaction between the different functions within a module, higher RF performance can be achieved as well as eliminating some external components and their contribution to battery loading.

By working with industry recognised chip set partners, careful consideration is given to the pin-out of modules, aligning most effectively with other circuits to eliminate board layout problems and any compromise in performance.

Several years ago, TriQuint recognised the benefits highly integrated modules would bring to our customers and began architecting and aligning products to fill this need. We ramped our technical expertise through our own developments and through acquisitions so that today we hold the industry's largest in-house technology portfolio and achieve the highest levels of integration.

We drive our technologies in the direction we need in order to support even more integration forgoing the delays and expense associated with outsourcing. Years ago we were the first with the 6- x 6-mm quad band TX modules for GSM/ GPRS, and the first with 5-x 5-mm (the smallest) GSM/GPRS quad band PA's.

Following the integration path to support EDGE versions of these devices in the same form factor was an obvious progression which is now realised. Our PA/duplexers are shrinking again with the next generation but we maintain a common footprint to enable easy selection of common bands across a platform.

With engineers developing breakthrough products using the latest advances in GaAs HBT, GaAs pHEMT, SAW and BAW technologies, TriQuint is the only industry vendor with capability to provide both the active and passive components from one source.

- Graham Teague
EE Times





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