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How long until the next killer application? Will wireless products continue to drive semiconductor technology?

What will be the next driver for semiconductor packaging technology? At a recent consumer product show in Las Vegas, NV, many companies were searching for the next new killer application. Is it some form of creature comfort in an automotive setting? DVD sales increased 91 percent last year--is it the new product driver? Game machines, such as Sony's PlayStation, shipped almost 50 million units last year; will this equipment be the home appliance of the future? Or is the new technology some wireless product that will drive semiconductor packaging technology and unit shipments?

As the electronics industry looks for the next killer application that will bring the industry out of its current slump, examining the length of time required for the commercialization of a new technology is important.

Volume Drivers for Semiconductor Shipments

Ten years ago, personal computers were the big drivers for semiconductor volumes; today, the mobile phone drives that market. The first cellular phones were introduced almost 12 years ago, but the number of subscribers and shipments of handsets quickly grew. With more than 400 million phones shipped in 2002, and more than 50 percent of chip-scale packages (CSPs) going into mobile phones, CSPs are an important technology development. Without CSPs, the miniaturization of mobile phones would not have been possible. Without mobile phones, the product driver for CSP volume growth would not have existed.

Package development in the mobile phone sector is driven by the need for integrated circuit (IC) packages to enable smaller, thinner and lighter products with increased functionality. Typically, CSPs are used to package flash, static access random memory (SRAM), controller and digital signal processing (DSP). All types of CSPs--flex-based substrates, rigid substrates (especially laminate) and lead frame-based packages--are found in mobile phones, An increasing number of stacked packages are also found in these products--more than 250 million units are expected to ship this year.

Historically, much of the volume in stacked packages has been for versions that contain only two die (flash and SRAM), but increasing numbers of multiple memory die are being stacked and logic, such as a DSP, is sometimes included. Packages with as many as eight devices are scheduled for production in the next year.

Wafer-level packages (WLPs) are also increasingly found in mobile phones. Many of today's products are integrated passive devices packaged in a redistributed bump format. A growing number of devices, from diodes to dynamic random access memory (DRAM), are shipping as WLPs. WLPs are also growing in volume for a variety of low lead count (= 100 I/O) applications--including analog devices such as power amplifiers, battery management devices, controllers, power devices and memory. A growing number of portable products will continue to drive demand for WLPs.

High Definition Television: The 30-Year Wait

Other technology developments have required a longer wait. The latest high-definition screens at my local electronics shop are somewhat affordable at less than $2,000. Tonight, my local TV news station ran an advertisement for its programming in high definition television (HDTV). The report I wrote with a colleague in 1989 predicting the commercialization of the technology first conceived 19 years earlier is a distant memory. Has it really been this long?

Japanese companies commercialized HDTV and saw it not as a better TV, but as an entirely new medium. HDTV represents an innovation not limited to one industrial segment, but applicable to all forms of entertainment media with technologies including semiconductors and displays. The HDTV system involves many technologies including: DSP, high-resistance magnetic tape, optical recording, laser technology, electrode processing, photoconductive film, optical design, computer-aided design, satellite transmission, large-size displays, shadow mask process and image quality evaluation methods.

While most of the display technologies for HDTV were developed in the early 1990s, commercialization did not occur until late 1999. Only Japanese industry, with its long-term government research and planning, was able to capitalize on the new development. Maybe only Sony can tell us if the business was worth the wait. Can we afford to spend the resources for the next new consumer technology if it takes 30 years to realize the investment?

Future Technology Drivers

The consumer product sector has been the only bright spot for many companies in the electronics industry for the last year. Game applications are increasing in processor power, speed and performance. Peak data transfer rates require high-speed memory and packages with improved performance and will be an important application to watch as it drives new packaging developments.

Many companies are pinning their hopes for the future on new wireless products to drive demand for new packages and volume shipments. In an increasingly mobile society, this bet is a good one.

E. Jan Vardaman is president of Tech-Search International, Austin, TX; e-mail:
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Title Annotation:On the Forefront
Author:Vardaman, E. Jan
Publication:Circuits Assembly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2003
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