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Enabling a Global Wireless Industry

wireless infrastructure

By 2025, the global wireless industry is estimated to grow from 69.0 billion to 141.1 billion (USD). This growth is largely attributed to the expected increase in demand for wireless networks for smart infrastructure, further development of the 5G network, and growth in the adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT). The increase in working from home and virtual learning, a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, is another contributing factor for the increase in demand for additional wireless connectivity across the globe.

The wireless market, which we divide into consumer products and infrastructure, is a diverse industry that encompasses a variety of applications including radio, radar, wireless Internet, satellites, and cellular communications. Applications and things that touch our lives daily, Materion is committed to enabling and developing the global wireless network.

Let’s take a closer look at how Materion contributes to various consumer products and the wireless infrastructure.

Wireless Consumer Products

Wireless connectivity is embedded in a variety of familiar products, including cell phones, smart phones, tablets, laptop computers, automobiles, and motorcycles, and so much more. Materion provides physical vapor deposition (PVD) consumables and services to manufacturers of power amplifier (PA) chips for the handset industry, thus making us an integral part of the finished product. Without PA chips, it would be impossible to amplify the digital voice or data signal toward the antenna and outward to the closest base station.

The most popular semiconductor material used to produce handset power amplifiers (PAs) is Gallium Arsenide (GaAs). GaAs-based power amplifiers are preferred over Silicon (Si) based chips because GaAs power amplifiers have superior power-added efficiency. Consumers demand a long battery life, and GaAs has been a popular option as a power amplifier semiconductor since the introduction of wireless cell phones in 1999. Since the introduction of wireless cell phones, the functionality of smartphones has expanded to more power-hungry features (such as a camera, MP3 and video players, email, etc.), making it even more important for batteries to last longer and provide more energy.

As a leading supplier of PVD consumable materials to GaAs PA wafer fabricators, Materion’s thin film metals are used to conduct electrical current and make ohmic contact on both faces of each GaAs chip. We produce gold and gold-alloy evaporation slugs and sputtering targets for this industry, in addition to providing non-precious metal PVD materials. Materion also offers complete precious metal lifecycle support including precision parts kit cleaning, refining and metal management services. Regardless of the make or model of the tablet or smartphone, it’s highly likely that we supplied the thin film alloys in one or more of the GaAs chips in that product.

Other Materion products likely to be incorporated into consumer goods are lids and solders that are used to hermetically seal packages containing quartz oscillators and surface acoustic wave (SAW) filters. These sensitive devices must be encased in hermetic packages, protectively sealed by lids and lead-free solders, such as AuSn and SAC alloy.

In addition, Materion’s Performance Alloys & Composites (PAC) produce high performance alloys and clad alloys used in the connectors of some consumer products. These alloys provide the combination of modulus, hardness, and electrical conductivity necessary to meet the demanding requirements of connectors for battery chargers, USB ports, and ear plugs.

Wireless Infrastructure

The commercial market for wireless infrastructure is comprised of a number of applications: base stations for consumer wireless connectivity (cell phones, smart phones, wireless Internet), digital broadcast television towers, private radio networks (e.g., for police and fire departments) and radar.  Modern cellular communication is made possible by base stations distributed over the country. Each station has a visible tower with antennae at the top and a base shack that houses racks of amplifiers responsible for generating the signal sent to the antennae. To reduce the large amount of waste heat emitted by the amplifiers, the shack must be air conditioned.

The delicate Silicon RF power transistors must be protected from oxygen and water vapor while in operation. Materion manufactures brazed ceramic packages (and matching Epo-Lids™) to house these transistors. For smaller devices, we offer unique CuPack™ surface mount packages. Our packages and lids must conduct the high heat dissipated beneath the transistors (100 – 500 W/cm2) away. To prevent corrosion and enable solderability, the packages are plated with Nickel & Gold, which also provides a “skin” with high electrical conductivity to support the shallow penetration depth of electrons at RF frequencies. 

Materion ceramic packages and matching lids are also used for transistors that amplify signals for digital broadcast television, as well as commercial radar. Commercial radar applications include weather radar, air traffic control radar, and Doppler radar (used to detect wind shear near runways). Additionally, all airliners are required to have collision-avoidance radar. There are even radar applications used for advanced driver-assisted systems (ADAS).

Materion also manufactures dry-pressed Thermalox® BeO ceramic substrates that are used in some RF transistor packages. BeO-based RF packages are commonly used with Si bipolar and VMOS transistors, as well as SiC RF transistors. Thermalox® BeO ceramic substrates are also used for high performance microwave and millimeter wave hybrid circuits. A discussion of the use of BeO in microwave and power RF applications is presented in these articles, here and here.

Materials for the Wireless Industry

Materion provides materials to nearly all facets of the commercial wireless industry. From PVD materials and high-performance alloys to metalized lids and solders, technical ceramics and services that encompass complete precious metal lifecycle support to meet the full range of your needs, we are committed to providing materials to help enable the wireless industry. Our materials are vital in enabling the power amplifiers in consumer smart phones and tablets, as well as in the base stations that communicate with those handsets and tablets. Materion products are used in wireless radar and radios that keep you safe, ranging from the private radio networks used by police and fire departments, as well as to the collision avoidance radar that helps prevent collisions of commercial airliners. As wireless interconnectivity expands into new applications such as control of building lighting, and wireless utility meters (water, natural gas, electric power), expect Materion’s products and services to expand to meet that market. 

To learn more about how Materion’s products and services are enabling the wireless industry, contact our team today.

 


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