Wireless Communications – Signals Given A Boost
A North Carolina State University professor has developed technology that will allow wireless communication relay stations to handle 10 times their current signal capacity. That advancement will help meet -- and additionally fuel -- the exploding demand for cellular phones, hand-held Internet access and other means of wireless communication.
The patented radio frequency transistor technology -- invented by Dr. Jayant 'Jay' Baliga, NC State Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering -- could be on the market within a year.
The technology will be used in cellular base stations, which consist of the antennae and associated electronics that boost the signals of cellular phones and other wireless devices. Because of the shift from analog to digital wireless technology and the growing demand for remote Internet access, these stations have to handle a rapidly increasing amount of wireless data.
The enhancement of these base stations is crucial, and my technology is significantly superior to what is now being employed, Baliga explained. There’s a strong demand for this technology.
To commercialize his RF power semiconductor technology, Baliga last June founded Silicon Wireless Corp. with seed investments from NC State’s Centennial Venture Partners fund and the Longleaf Venture fund.
In December, the company received a $10 million investment from Fairchild Semiconductor International, a leading player in the power transistor market. Fairchild, a 10,000-employee company based in Maine, also has agreed to co-develop, manufacture and market Baliga’s RF power semiconductors.
Baliga said Fairchild’s investment and partnership is a vote of confidence that will allow Silicon Wireless to manufacture a prototype of the RF transistor by the third quarter of 2001. The development of an RF transistor fabrication line is expected to begin this month.
The market for RF power transistors is expected to grow by 100 percent in 2001. The Semiconductor Industry Association estimates that the market will be worth $1.5 billion by 2001, driven mainly by growth in wireless base stations for cellular phones and local area networks.
The wireless base station market is growing rapidly with estimates pointing to 5.3 million new base stations being deployed over the next three years, said Izak Bencuya, Fairchild’s senior vice president and general manager of the Discrete Power and Signal Technologies division. Fairchild is focused on continuing to broaden its delivery of new products through innovative technology. Our relationship with Silicon Wireless promises to extend our portfolio of new products that are in demand by growing markets.
Fairchild will invest $10 million in Silicon Wireless in a combination of cash, R&D and marketing services. Fairchild will have exclusive rights to manufacture and sell semiconductor products developed in the relationship, subject to certain terms and conditions, while Silicon Wireless will manufacture and sell RF power amplifier modules based on its patented technology.
Silicon Wireless, which has an exclusive license from NC State to commercialize patents related to Baliga’s inventions in the area of semiconductor technology, has entered into a commercialization license agreement with Fairchild.
We look forward to working closely with Fairchild Semiconductor to capitalize on this exciting opportunity, Baliga said. Our business model enables us to focus on creating the next generation of technology while working with industry leaders such as Fairchild to deliver solutions to the marketplace quickly and efficiently.
Baliga’s RF transistors will handle 10 times as many signals as the Lateral Double Diffused Metal Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistors technology currently utilized for wireless cellular base stations. Additionally, the transistors will result in greater signal linearity -- reducing the amount of 'crosstalk' distortion during cell phone conversations.
Baliga said the transistors are expected to hit the market quickly because they’re made of silicon and, as a result, can be built using existing semiconductor fabrication processes. Much research has been conducted on transistors made of other materials, including gallium arsenide and silicon carbide, but such materials require extremely expensive investments in new manufacturing facilities.
Dr. Baliga has a worldwide reputation for his inventorship and this is in keeping with that, said Glenn Kline, managing director of the Centennial Venture Partners fund and interim Silicon Wireless CEO. In a nutshell, he is an amazing man, and he is very committed to having a positive impact on society.
The Centennial Venture Partners fund and the Longleaf Venture Fund, which invested in Silicon Wireless, are investment funds that provide early stage funding to commercialize technologies developed by North Carolina universities. CVP is a seed and early stage venture fund created by NC State to invest time and support services in start-up firms, like Baliga’s, associated with the university.
With its headquarters on NC State’s 1,200-acre Centennial Campus research park, Silicon Wireless is expected to grow from six to 30 employees by mid-year. It has opened an assembly office in San Diego, and plans to open a manufacturing office in Salt Lake City and a design office in the Silicon Valley area. More information about the company is on the Web at http://silicon-wireless.com.
Baliga, whose inventions have resulted in more than 100 patents, is regarded as a leading international expert on power semiconductor devices. He has written more than 500 scientific publications and 10 books, and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. Scientific American in 1997 named him one of the eight heroes of the semiconductor revolution.
In 1999, in collaboration with NC State’s Office of Technology Transfer, Baliga created another company, Giant Semiconductor Corp., with funding from Centennial Venture Partners to commercialize his patented NC State technology that could translate into more efficient battery use and more compact design for cell phones, laptop computers and other portable electronic devices.
Oskar Shawn contributes and publishes news editorial to http://www.cellular-camera-phones.com.
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