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Foundry Aims to Serve All Corners

In this Q&A, Amol Kalburge, senior director of RF and high-performance analog marketing and strategic accounts at TowerJazz, discusses the technologies and different markets that define his company.

Can you first give us an overview of TowerJazz?

TowerJazz is the global specialty analog foundry leader. We manufacture next-generation integrated circuits (ICs) in growing markets such as 5G/IoT, optical networking, cloud computing, automotive ADAS and vehicle electrification, high-performance imaging including AR/VR, aerospace and defense, and smart power management. TowerJazz offers a broad range of customizable process platforms such as silicon-germanium (SiGe) BiCMOS, RF silicon-on-insulator (SOI), RF CMOS, mixed-signal/CMOS, sensors including CMOS image sensors and non-imaging sensors, integrated power management, and MEMS.

TowerJazz also provides world-class design enablement for a quick and accurate design cycle as well as transfer optimization and development process services (TOPS) to integrated device manufacturers (IDMs) and fabless companies that need to expand capacity. To provide multi-fab sourcing and extended capacity for its customers, TowerJazz operates two manufacturing facilities in Israel (150 mm and 200 mm), two in the U.S. (200 mm), and three facilities in Japan (two 200 mm and one 300 mm). All our fabs are certified for IATF 16949, the industry’s highest standard of quality system for automotive manufacturing (Fig. 1).

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1. TowerJazz has facilities located in multiple spots around the world.

What are some of the technologies the company is involved with?

We offer a broad range of advanced specialty analog technologies, with technology nodes ranging from > 0.25 µm down to 45 nm. I would urge readers to visit our website for details on all of the technologies we offer, but I will highlight some of the firsts we have brought to market in the arena of microwaves and RF. Two decades ago, we were the first pure-play foundry to offer advanced SiGe technologies for wireless and wireline markets. Today, we are in production with our fifth-generation SiGe technology with an Ft/Fmax of greater than 300 GHz. In addition, we are working on sixth-generation to usher in the era of terabit optical communications.

We were also the first pure-play foundry to offer advanced RF SOI technology back almost a decade ago to enable advanced front-end modules for 3G/4G-enabled smartphones and are now in production with our fourth-generation RF SOI technology. We are continuing to push the Ron-Coff—a key figure of merit for an RF switch—to below 50 fs and plan to release newer generations in coming years.

And finally, last year we started offering the industry’s first open silicon photonics (SiPho) process and process design kits (PDKs) for growing optical networking and data center markets. This open SiPho foundry technology is also rapidly becoming a technology of choice for the new and exciting market of LiDAR to make autonomous driving a reality. There are many more firsts across TowerJazz that we are proud of, and we continue to break new ground as we pursue most aggressive technology roadmap to help our customer partners bring unique and exciting new products to market rapidly.

Can you talk about some of the most difficult challenges you’ve faced in recent years?

It’s an interesting question and perhaps not easily answerable. Challenges always feel insurmountable when they are in front of you. But once you overcome them, they don’t feel as difficult in the rear mirror. As I described earlier, TowerJazz prides itself in being, or becoming, the first foundry to provide the most advanced solutions in everything we do. Being first means being unafraid of taking on new challenges and learning from history. We have been able to overcome challenges by being committed to our values, being loyal to our customers, and most importantly, continuing to invest in people to pursue excellence—be it a new technology, lean and efficient manufacturing, or quality.

Tell us about some of the markets that the end products are serving.

Our specialty analog solutions are aligned with three global megatrends:

  1. Wireless everywhere (seamless connectivity)
  2. Green everything (or energy efficiency)
  3. Smart everything (or intelligent systems)

Our CMOS image sensor technology is recognized by many market leaders as best in class. We enjoy a leading market share in high-end photography and cinematography, industrial/machine vision, x-ray imaging, ADAS and augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR), and with our latest 65-nm smallest-in-the-world global shutter technology, we are raising the bar even higher. Our advanced power-management platform is a technology of choice for leading solutions providers for electric-vehicle battery-management systems, data-center power supplies, industrial motor control, and LED lighting, to name a few.

In the RF/microwave arena, we are serving the entire value chain starting with cellular/Wi-Fi/IoT on the fronthaul to mmWave/microwave backhaul, to optical fiber networks. Some notable examples of end products are smartphone front-end modules (power amplifiers, RF antenna switches and tuners, and low-noise amplifiers), optical network elements (transimpedance amplifiers), clock-data recovery, laser drivers, compute and storage ICs (line drivers), HDD preamps, and analog-to-digital converters (ADCs).

Finally, we also serve the growing market of automotive radar and silicon photonics. Our silicon photonics platform is being adopted rapidly to meet worldwide data-traffic demands that 5G, cloud computing, and IoT are driving.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a host of smart-sensor applications that we serve with our non-imaging sensor technologies, such as hazardous gas sensors, temperature and humidity sensors, and radiation sensors.

With 5G being all the rage, what role do you see TowerJazz playing in terms of 5G?

We do believe that 5G technology will be a paradigm shift in how we and the “things” communicate with each other. 5G is about more than faster upload/download speeds. 5G networks will support massive and universal machine-to-machine communication, connecting billions of sensors and machines securely, reliably, and with ultra-low latency. On the backhaul, telecom operators will not only require higher-speed fixed wireless and fiber-optic networks, but also sophisticated integration of ubiquitous computing and storage architectures.

For multiple generations of network architectures, our SiGe, SOI, RFCMOS, and MEMS technologies have been extensively used by market leaders to design building blocks for the entire value chain. This multi-generational partnership and roadmap alignment with market leaders gives us unique insights into what is needed from silicon technology—or any other semiconductor tech for that matter—to support grueling performance demands of future 5G networks. We have significantly enhanced—and customized—our proven technology platforms and are collaborating with our partners to help them bring exciting next-generation 5G products to market.

We group our 5G technology platforms into three broad categories (Fig. 2) depending on the class of network connectivity:

  1. Sub-6-GHz RF
  2. Millimeter-wave (mmWave)
  3. Wireline optical

I would urge readers to learn more details about these platforms on our website or at one of our technology symposiums.

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2. TowerJazz’s 5G technology focus can be grouped into three categories. (Courtesy of TowerJazz)

We pride ourselves in bringing not only leading-edge silicon technologies to the market, but also being best-in-class in terms of design enablement and design support. We believe that no matter how good a technology, it’s of no use if our customers cannot bring products to market in the shortest possible time. Our PDKs, silicon-proven models, and IP allow our customers to design their products once and design them right. Our holistic approach to technology delivery is what differentiates us from other foundries. This is why we have been the largest specialty analog foundry for almost a decade now (Fig. 3).

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3. From 5G to EDA, TowerJazz brings a range of capabilities to the table.

Here are some useful links for readers to learn more about our technologies:

https://towerjazz.com/technology/process-technology-offerings

https://towerjazz.com/2019/05/30/gearing-up-for-5g-with-towerjazz

https://towerjazz.com/news-events/events

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