A Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuit, or MMIC (sometimes pronounced "mimic"), is a type of integrated circuit (IC) device that operates at microwave frequencies (300 MHz to 300 GHz). These devices typically perform functions such as microwave mixing, power amplification, low-noise amplification, and high-frequency switching. Inputs and outputs on MMIC devices are frequently matched to a characteristic impedance of 50 ohms. This makes them easier to use, as cascading of MMICs does not then require an external matching network. Additionally, most microwave test equipment is designed to operate in a 50-ohm environment.
An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit is a set of electronic circuits on one small flat piece of semiconductor material that is normally silicon. The integration of large numbers of tiny transistors into a small chip results in circuits that are orders of magnitude smaller, faster, and less expensive than those constructed of discrete electronic components. The IC's mass production capability, reliability, and building-block approach to circuit design has ensured the rapid adoption of standardized ICs in place of designs using discrete transistors. ICs are now used in virtually all electronic equipment and have revolutionized the world of electronics. Computers, mobile phones, and other digital home appliances are now inextricable parts of the structure of modern societies, made possible by the small size and low cost of ICs.
Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from about one meter to one millimeter; with frequencies between 300 MHz (1 m) and 300 GHz (1 mm). Different sources define different frequency ranges as microwaves; the above broad definition includes both UHF and EHF bands. A more common definition in radio engineering is the range between 1 and 100 GHz. In all cases, microwaves include the entire SHF band at minimum. Frequencies in the microwave range are often referred to by their IEEE radar band designations: S, C, X, Ku, K, or Ka band, or by similar NATO or EU designations.
Radio frequency (RF) is the oscillation rate of an alternating electric current or voltage or of a magnetic, electric or electromagnetic field or mechanical system in the frequency range from around twenty thousand times per second to around three hundred billion times per second. This is roughly between the upper limit of audio frequencies and the lower limit of infrared frequencies; these are the frequencies at which energy from an oscillating current can radiate off a conductor into space as radio waves. Different sources specify different upper and lower bounds for the frequency range.
MMICs are dimensionally small (from around 1 mm² to 10 mm²) and can be mass-produced, which has allowed the proliferation of high-frequency devices such as cellular phones. MMICs were originally fabricated using gallium arsenide (GaAs), a III-V compound semiconductor. It has two fundamental advantages over silicon (Si), the traditional material for IC realisation: device (transistor) speed and a semi-insulating substrate. Both factors help with the design of high-frequency circuit functions. However, the speed of Si-based technologies has gradually increased as transistor feature sizes have reduced, and MMICs can now also be fabricated in Si technology. The primary advantage of Si technology is its lower fabrication cost compared with GaAs. Silicon wafer diameters are larger (typically 8" to 15" compared with 4" to 8" for GaAs) and the wafer costs are lower, contributing to a less expensive IC.
Silicon is a chemical element with symbol Si and atomic number 14. It is a hard and brittle crystalline solid with a blue-grey metallic lustre; and it is a tetravalent metalloid and semiconductor. It is a member of group 14 in the periodic table: carbon is above it; and germanium, tin, and lead are below it. It is relatively unreactive. Because of its high chemical affinity for oxygen, it was not until 1823 that Jöns Jakob Berzelius was first able to prepare it and characterize it in pure form. Its melting and boiling points of 1414 °C and 3265 °C respectively are the second-highest among all the metalloids and nonmetals, being only surpassed by boron. Silicon is the eighth most common element in the universe by mass, but very rarely occurs as the pure element in the Earth's crust. It is most widely distributed in dusts, sands, planetoids, and planets as various forms of silicon dioxide (silica) or silicates. More than 90% of the Earth's crust is composed of silicate minerals, making silicon the second most abundant element in the Earth's crust after oxygen.
A transistor is a semiconductor device used to amplify or switch electronic signals and electrical power. It is composed of semiconductor material usually with at least three terminals for connection to an external circuit. A voltage or current applied to one pair of the transistor's terminals controls the current through another pair of terminals. Because the controlled (output) power can be higher than the controlling (input) power, a transistor can amplify a signal. Today, some transistors are packaged individually, but many more are found embedded in integrated circuits.
In electronics, a wafer is a thin slice of semiconductor, such as a crystalline silicon (c-Si), used for the fabrication of integrated circuits and, in photovoltaics, to manufacture solar cells. The wafer serves as the substrate for microelectronic devices built in and upon the wafer. It undergoes many microfabrication processes, such as doping, ion implantation, etching, thin-film deposition of various materials, and photolithographic patterning. Finally, the individual microcircuits are separated by wafer dicing and packaged as an integrated circuit.
Originally, MMICs used MEtal-Semiconductor Field-Effect Transistors (MESFETs) as the active device. More recently High Electron Mobility Transistors (HEMTs), Pseudomorphic HEMTs and Heterojunction Bipolar Transistors have become common.
A MESFET is a field-effect transistor semiconductor device similar to a JFET with a Schottky (metal-semiconductor) junction instead of a p-n junction for a gate.
Other III-V technologies, such as indium phosphide (InP), have been shown to offer superior performance to GaAs in terms of gain, higher cutoff frequency, and low noise. However they also tend to be more expensive due to smaller wafer sizes and increased material fragility.
Indium phosphide (InP) is a binary semiconductor composed of indium and phosphorus. It has a face-centered cubic ("zincblende") crystal structure, identical to that of GaAs and most of the III-V semiconductors.
Silicon germanium (SiGe) is a Si-based compound semiconductor technology offering higher-speed transistors than conventional Si devices but with similar cost advantages.
Gallium nitride (GaN) is also an option for MMICs. Because GaN transistors can operate at much higher temperatures and work at much higher voltages than GaAs transistors, they make ideal power amplifiers at microwave frequencies.
Semiconductor device fabrication is the process used to create the integrated circuits that are present in everyday electrical and electronic devices. It is a multiple-step sequence of photolithographic and chemical processing steps during which electronic circuits are gradually created on a wafer made of pure semiconducting material. Silicon is almost always used, but various compound semiconductors are used for specialized applications.
Very-large-scale integration (VLSI) is the process of creating an integrated circuit (IC) by combining millions of transistors or devices into a single chip. VLSI began in the 1970s when complex semiconductor and communication technologies were being developed. The microprocessor is a VLSI device. Before the introduction of VLSI technology most ICs had a limited set of functions they could perform. An electronic circuit might consist of a CPU, ROM, RAM and other glue logic. VLSI lets IC designers add all of these into one chip.
A semiconductor device is an electronic component that exploits the electronic properties of semiconductor material, principally silicon, germanium, and gallium arsenide, as well as organic semiconductors. Semiconductor devices have replaced vacuum tubes in most applications. They use electrical conduction in the solid state rather that the gaseous state or thermionic emission in a vacuum.
Gallium arsenide (GaAs) is a compound of the elements gallium and arsenic. It is a III-V direct bandgap semiconductor with a zinc blende crystal structure.
Gallium nitride (GaN) is a binary III/V direct bandgap semiconductor commonly used in light-emitting diodes since the 1990s. The compound is a very hard material that has a Wurtzite crystal structure. Its wide band gap of 3.4 eV affords it special properties for applications in optoelectronic, high-power and high-frequency devices. For example, GaN is the substrate which makes violet (405 nm) laser diodes possible, without use of nonlinear optical frequency-doubling.
SiGe, or silicon-germanium, is an alloy with any molar ratio of silicon and germanium, i.e. with a molecular formula of the form Si1−xGex. It is commonly used as a semiconductor material in integrated circuits (ICs) for heterojunction bipolar transistors or as a strain-inducing layer for CMOS transistors. IBM introduced the technology into mainstream manufacturing in 1989. This relatively new technology offers opportunities in mixed-signal circuit and analog circuit IC design and manufacture. SiGe is also used as a thermoelectric material for high temperature applications.
A High-electron-mobility transistor (HEMT), also known as heterostructure FET (HFET) or modulation-doped FET (MODFET), is a field-effect transistor incorporating a junction between two materials with different band gaps as the channel instead of a doped region. A commonly used material combination is GaAs with AlGaAs, though there is wide variation, dependent on the application of the device. Devices incorporating more indium generally show better high-frequency performance, while in recent years, gallium nitride HEMTs have attracted attention due to their high-power performance. Like other FETs, HEMTs are used in integrated circuits as digital on-off switches. FETs can also be used as amplifiers for large amounts of current using a small voltage as a control signal. Both of these uses are made possible by the FET’s unique current-voltage characteristics. HEMT transistors are able to operate at higher frequencies than ordinary transistors, up to millimeter wave frequencies, and are used in high-frequency products such as cell phones, satellite television receivers, voltage converters, and radar equipment. They are widely used in satellite receivers, in low power amplifiers and in the defense industry.
The heterojunction bipolar transistor (HBT) is a type of bipolar junction transistor (BJT) which uses differing semiconductor materials for the emitter and base regions, creating a heterojunction. The HBT improves on the BJT in that it can handle signals of very high frequencies, up to several hundred GHz. It is commonly used in modern ultrafast circuits, mostly radio-frequency (RF) systems, and in applications requiring a high power efficiency, such as RF power amplifiers in cellular phones. The idea of employing a heterojunction is as old as the conventional BJT, dating back to a patent from 1951. Detailed theory of heterojunction bipolar transistor was developed by Herbert Kroemer in 1957.
A hybrid integrated circuit (HIC), hybrid microcircuit, hybrid circuit or simply hybrid is a miniaturized electronic circuit constructed of individual devices, such as semiconductor devices and passive components, bonded to a substrate or printed circuit board (PCB). A PCB having components on a Printed Wiring Board (PWB) is not considered a hybrid circuit according to the definition of MIL-PRF-38534.
A hybrid silicon laser is a semiconductor laser fabricated from both silicon and group III-V semiconductor materials. The hybrid silicon laser was developed to address the lack of a silicon laser to enable fabrication of low-cost, mass-producible silicon optical devices. The hybrid approach takes advantage of the light-emitting properties of III-V semiconductor materials combined with the process maturity of silicon to fabricate electrically driven lasers on a silicon wafer that can be integrated with other silicon photonic devices.
The Compact Model Coalition is a working group in the Electronic Design Automation industry formed to choose, maintain and promote the use of standard semiconductor device models. Commercial and industrial analog simulators need to add device models as technology advances and earlier models become inaccurate. Before this group was formed, new transistor models were largely proprietary, which severely limited the choice of simulators that could be used.
Sir Christopher Maxwell Snowden is a former vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton and Surrey University. He was president of Universities UK for a two-year term until 31 July 2015.
Beam lead technology is a method of fabricating a semiconductor device. Its original application was to high-frequency silicon switching transistors and high-speed integrated circuits. It eliminated the labor-intensive wire-bonding process used for integrated circuits at the time and allowed automated assembly of semiconductor chips onto larger substrates to produce hybrid integrated circuits.
IQE is a British semiconductor company founded 1988 in Cardiff, Wales which manufactures advanced epitaxial wafers for a wide range of technology applications for wireless, optoelectronic, electronic and solar devices. IQE specialises in advanced silicon and compound semiconductor materials based on gallium arsenide (GaAs), indium phosphide (InP), gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon. The company is the largest independent outsource producer of epiwafers manufactured by metalorganic vapour phase epitaxy (MOCVD), molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) and chemical vapor deposition (CVD).
The field-effect transistor (FET) is an electronic device which uses an electric field to control the flow of current. FETs are 3-terminalled devices, having a source, gate, and drain terminal. FETs control the flow of current by the application of a voltage to the gate terminal, which in turn alters the conductivity between the drain and source terminals.
Author S. P. Marsh
Editors I. D. Robertson and S. Lucyszyn