Highlights from the 2023 BCICTS in Monterey

Photo of Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey, Calif. with the text "mmTron at BCICTS" in the bottom foreground.

The IEEE BiCMOS and Compound Semiconductor Integrated Circuits and Technology Symposium (BCICTS) just completed its sixth annual conference, 15–18 October, in Monterey, Calif. BCICTS is the marriage of the Compound Semiconductor IC Symposium (CSICS) and the Bipolar/BiCMOS Circuit and Technology Meeting (BCTM), which ran for 42 and 35 years, respectively, before joining to start BCICTS.

mmTron was one of seven companies exhibiting this year, along with five sponsors, to help underwrite the event. Co-founders Seyed Tabatabaei and Mona Molaasgari and Mike Roberg, Engineering Fellow, attended to take in the conference papers and share mmTron’s differentiated strategy for serving the mmWave market.

Mike has long served on the conference technical program committee (TPC) and served as the BCICTS publications chair this year. Next year, he’ll chair the TPC. His association with BCICTS gives him a good perspective on the technology and industry, so we asked Mike to share his impressions of the event:

“BCICTS attendees were greeted by beautiful weather and a fantastic technical program in Monterey.

The three excellent plenary talks highlighted the future directions of compound semiconductor technology. Tom Kazior (DARPA) gave an excellent talk on how 3D heterogeneous integration will be a key enabler for next generation RF systems. Building on this concept, Shahriar Shahramian (Bell Labs) discussed Bell Labs’ research efforts in E- and D-Band phased array development, which is enabled by glass interposer technology. Umesh Mishra (UCSB) wrapped up the plenary session with an excellent talk discussing how N-polar GaN offers significant promise for improving mmWave power density, which is becoming a bottleneck for many applications.

The exhibitor reception, held Monday evening, enabled the attendees to have substantive technical conversations with one another, so was well attended. With some 170 attendees, BCICTS is a smaller conference, which makes the engagement opportunities unique for exhibitors. Most attendees are directly involved with IC design, so the discussions are typically technical and detailed, which often identifies unique business opportunities for the exhibitors.

It was clear from the conference that mmWave systems are a hot topic. The challenges seemed to consistent across all the presented papers: consumed and dissipated power needs to be reduced while linearity and output power are increased. Oh, and don’t forget the integration challenges at mmWave, making a phased array, for example!

While these challenges are quite difficult, they are favorable for mmTron’s future due to our mmWave IC design expertise, which leads to products with world class power, power-added efficiency, and linearity. As GaN nodes continue being developed for mmWave (e.g., STARRY NITE, a program on the microelectronics roadmap of the Office of Undersecretary of Defense Research & Engineering), mmTron is well-positioned to offer GaN MMIC products exceeding 100 GHz with output power not previously achievable.

Fraunhofer’s presentation on advanced mHEMT technologies was one of the papers that was particularly impressive. It achieved MMIC amplifier performance beyond 700 GHz, which is astounding. They presented an integrated module for a synthetic aperture radar, with performance at 400 GHz, also impressive.

— Mike Roberg

Photo of Mike Roberg, Seyed Tabatabaei, and Jim Sowers at the mmTron exhibit at the 2023 BCICTS conference in Monterey, Calif.
Mike Roberg, Seyed Tabatabaei, and mmTron technical advisor Jim Sowers
at the mmTron exhibit at the 2023 BCICTS conference in Monterey.

To Support Growth, mmTron Moves to New Office, Expanded Lab

A photo of the multl-story office building and mmTron's door sign. The text reads "mmTron Expands Offices and Lab"

To support the market’s interest in our mmWave products, we moved into larger offices during the summer. Our new space has an expanded lab for development and production testing, with the following capabilities:

— Keysight 4-port PNA-X,
— Keysight spectrum analyzer,
— Rohde & Schwarz 20 giga-sample-per-second (GSPS) oscilloscope,
— Keysight transistor modeling system,
— power meters, and
— programmable power supplies.

Two probe stations from FormFactor enable on-wafer testing. One is capable of interfacing with frequency extenders for measurements to THz.

The new space also includes wire bond assembly, incoming and outgoing inspection, and inventory storage with N2 desiccators, as well as offices for team members.

We’re still in Redwood City, less than ½ mile from our previous location.

A photo of Michael Roberg, Engineering Fellow, in the lab at mmTron's new office.
Michael Roberg, Engineering Fellow, in the lab at mmTron’s new office.

Download mmTron’s IMS 2023 MicroApps Presentation

Title slide from mmTron's MicroApps presentation at IMS 2023

If you missed this year’s IMS in San Diego — or perhaps you were there but too busy to see everything — you can still download and review the slides from our MicroApps presentation.

Our CEO, Seyed Tabatabaei, gave an overview of the challenges when simultaneously designing MMICs for high output power, linearity, and power-added efficiency at mmWave frequencies. Optimizing all three is the motivating mission for mmTron.

Download here: mmWave PAs — Why Sacrifice High Power for Linearity?

A View of the mmWave Landscape

A photo of mmTron's founder, Seyed Tabatabaei with the title of his article published in MPD: "Today’s Palette of Semiconductor Technologies: A Millimeter-wave MMIC Designer’s Dream"

Seyed Tabatabaei, mmTron’s founder, president, and CEO, shares his view of the mmWave semiconductor landscape in the July 2023 issue of Microwave Product Digest.

“After almost 40 years, I find this the most fulfilling time to be working in millimeter-wave. No longer relegated to lab or niche applications, our pallet of millimeter-wave semiconductor technologies is truly enabling global communications.”

Read the full article online at MPD.

mmTron’s 50 W, Ka-Band GaN PA Design Featured by Keysight

Simulation layout of a GaN MMIC power amplifier

Keysight Technologies recently published a case study describing how mmTron’s 28 GHz, 50 watt power amplifier (PA) MMIC was developed using the Keysight RF EDA environment.

The TMC211 was designed to provide 50 watts saturated output power across 27 to 31 GHz, with 53 dBm OIP3 and 28% power-aided efficiency. The design is the highest power, single die, GaN MMIC commercially announced. The unique single die PA eliminates the combining losses from a multiple die design; however, the power density requires careful thermal design.

mmTron designers used ADS as the center of the TMC211 workflow. After initial simulations using sinusoidal stimulation, ADS enabled application waveforms to be used.

“There are many PA subtleties that only appear under modulated signals,” says Seyed Tabatabaei, mmTron’s CEO. “How the signal phase changes between stages, memory effects, interactions with capacitor values and placements, and power consumption all depend on modulation.”

Circuit simulation was only part of the workflow. mmTron employed the other EDA tools in Keysight PathWave, including ADS Electro-Thermal Simulator. ADS combines the native EM simulator and the electro-thermal extension in a single interface without layout conversions.

Listing of Keysight EDA tools used my mmTron in the design of the TMC211

mmTron’s design was one of three examples shown in Keysight’s video highlighting its RF EDA environment.

Download Keysight’s case study.

Microwave Journal Interviews mmTron at IMS2023

Photo of Pat Hindle (center) interviewing Mike Roberg (left) and Seyed Tabatabaei (right) at the mmTron booth at IMS2023 in San Diego.

Among the highlights of mmTron’s first exhibit at the International Microwave Symposium (IMS): Pat Hindle, Editorial Director of Microwave Journal, interviewed Seyed Tabatabaei, President and CEO, and Mike Roberg, Engineering Fellow, at mmTron’s booth at IMS2023 in San Diego.

mmTron Heading to the 2023 International Microwave Symposium

International Microwave Symposium header above the IMS 2023 logo with

In San Diego to Unleash the mmWave Frontier — mmTron will be exhibiting at next week’s International Microwave Symposium (IMS) in San Diego, the first IMS for us. Stop by our booth (#343) to learn about our mission to develop disruptive MMICs that extend output power, linearity, and efficiency — simultaneously — to extend the reach and data capacity of mmWave communications systems.

MicroApps Presentation — mmTron’s approach to this power, linearity, and efficiency challenge will be explained by Seyed Tabatabaei, founder, president, and CEO of mmTron, in his MicroApps presentation “mmWave PAs: Why Sacrifice High Power for Linearity?” It’s scheduled for Wednesday, June 14, at 1:00 p.m., in the MicroApps theater on the exhibition floor.

Differential to Single-Ended High-Speed DAC Interface — At IMS, mmTron will be highlighting a unique IC module that converts the differential output of a high-speed digital-to-analog converter (DAC) to a clean, low noise, single-ended RF signal. The TMC160 integrates anti-alias filters, quasi-differential low noise amplifiers, and a balun with bias T in a 7 mm x 7 mm surface-mount package. We will be demonstrating the TMC160 with a Texas Instruments high-speed DAC.

Distributed Amplifier Family — As part of our focus on mmWave, we’ve designed a family of broadband distributed amplifier MMICs with upper frequencies from 20 to 160 GHz for applications like instrumentation and EW. The TMC774, with a frequency response from DC to 160 GHz, is well suited to support 6G R&D.

For More Information — We hope to see you at IMS2023, but if you can’t attend, you can review our products on mmTron’s website and then contact us to discuss how our MMICs can help improve the performance of your system.

Microwave Journal Interviews Seyed Tabatabaei

We’re pleased to share that mmTron’s founder, Seyed Tabatabaei, is featured in Microwave Journal’s latest executive interview, posted on their website.

The interview covers the motivation for mmTron’s formation and where Seyed feels the company stands out among fabless MMIC suppliers: optimizing output power, linearity, and efficiency at mmWave frequencies. He shares his vision for mmTron’s product portfolio, which goes well beyond power amplifiers.

We appreciate Microwave Journal giving us this opportunity to tell mmTron’s story.

Photo of Seyed Tabatabaei, mmTron's founder, president, and CEO, with the Microwave Journal logo

mmWave LEO Satellites Coming Over the Horizon

From the front lines of the Russia-Ukraine war to Earth observation missions to high-speed communications at home, commercial LEO satellites are proving to be transformative. To continue their impact, they must adopt millimeter-wave (mmWave) frequencies.

mmTron is developing disruptive MMICs offering higher output power, efficiency, and linearity at mmWave frequencies — a performance that will enable new system capabilities. This blog article by James Sowers of Maxar Space Infrastructure and an Advisor to mmTron explains the opportunity for the coming generation of satellite systems and the need to tap mmWave frequencies to truly realize the vision propelling satellite communications (Satcom).

Low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites — first used to track weather and climate, now offering broadband internet access from space — have extended their capabilities to global geopolitical conflicts, with the Russia-Ukraine conflict dubbed the world’s first “commercial space war.”

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago, LEOs have captured real-time convoy and radar imagery, helping track Russian troop movements and military tactics, enabling Ukraine to quickly respond to evacuate civilians, and even verify war crimes. As well as providing a communications link to coordinate military operations, SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation has been a communications lifeline for the citizens of the besieged Eastern European country. Arguably, satellites, many in LEO, have given Ukraine a tactical advantage over a vastly larger enemy, considering Russia’s military has nearly 5x more active troops more