29-10-2020 | | By Robin Mitchell
Recently, STMicroelectronics acquired SOMOS Semiconductor who are a fab-less semiconductor company. Who is SOMOS? What do they develop, and why has STMicroelectronics acquired them?
For the past year, 5G has made the news many times for many different reasons. At first, the world was excited to integrate 5G into everyday life, then suddenly the US decided to ban all Chinese hardware in their 5G infrastructure. Since most 5G technologies were Chinese, the many countries that followed the US could not integrate 5G capabilities as fast as they had hoped, thus pushing the establishment of 5G several years ahead. To make matters worse, next-generation tech such as IoT and smart cities will be highly dependent on, such as cellular network as 5G enables both high-speed connections and many thousands of simultaneous connections. With Chinese technology out of the picture, and the need for 5G infrastructure, companies around the world are rushing to fill the massive gap in the market, and some large businesses have even acquired specialists to help create the next generation network systems.
SOMOS is a French fabless semiconductor company meaning that it produces designs and intellectual property but does not produce physical silicon devices. Their IP is either sent to other companies who can produce and sell the integrated circuits, or license designs so that they can be integrated into other semiconductor devices (i.e. ARMs business model). SOMOS Semiconductor specialises in the development of RF power amplifiers, RF front end, and RF switch products for use in 4G and 5G applications surrounding IoT and Smartphone products. Utilising CMOS technology, the power amplifier is designed to have high-performance capabilities, exhibiting low harmonics, and having some of the smallest form factors available.
Recognising the growing importance of 4G and 5G technologies, STMicroelectronics recently announced that it has acquired SOMOS Semiconductor. While the terms of the acquisition have not been announced, STMicroelectronics has stated that it intends to utilise SOMOS capabilities to provide better connectivity to its customers, as well as develop key technologies for infrastructure relating to 4G and 5G in IoT and Smartphone applications. According to STMicroelectronics, the deal gives STMicroelectronics access to SOMOS staff, IP, and road-maps for Front-End modules as well as access to SOMOS products including an NB-IoT / CAT-M1 module that is already being tested for qualification.
“Consumers and Industry expect more and better connectivity solutions. At ST, we are committed to offering and enabling solutions to address these needs and challenges. Cellular IoT and 5G infrastructure technologies are key in that perspective. With this acquisition, we reinforce our ambition to play a major role in RF FEM for a buoyant connectivity IoT market, and we strengthen our roadmap of RF Front-End for the 5G markets. With the recent acquisition of BeSpoon for UWB technology and Riot Micro for NB-IoT modems, ST now offers its customers complete connectivity solutions leveraging the market-leading STM32 solutions and ecosystem.” - Claude Dardanne, President, Microcontrollers and Digital ICs Group, at STMicroelectronics
This is not the first move that STMicroelectronics has made in the 5G field. Back in 2019, STMicroelectronics and MACOM Technology Solutions Holdings expanded their 150mm GaN production capability to allow for the creation of key 5G technologies relating to antenna and RF power products. Back in 2019, STMicroelectronics also announced that it was looking into the 5G mmWave network infrastructure market, and announced how several of its technologies would help, including BiCMO, CMOS, FD-SOI, and RF-SOI as well as its beam-forming solutions for satellite communication.
Of course, STMicroelectronics is not the only company getting heavily involved with 5G technologies; many major other companies are looking towards 5G with large amounts of interest. For example, Intel is looking into creating software-defined networks for 5G installations, NXP has been upgrading their semiconductor foundries to create GaN 5G devices, and Samsung has been designated to produce next-generation Qualcomm devices. All of these moves by major companies can be seen as a result of the sudden void in the 5G market with the widespread banning of Chinese 5G technology.