Microelectromechanical system (MEMS)
technology is attracting tremendous interest across the world and research
efforts are constantly growing. This technology has made exceptional advances
in recent years and is now poised to transform radio frequency (RF). RF MEMS
devices have a huge number of potential applications including wireless
communications, military, space and instrumentation.
"The interest in MEMS technology for RF and wireless applications can be
attributed to its flexibility, which can be exploited to overcome the
limitations exhibited by integrated RF devices and enable circuits with new
levels of performance not achievable otherwise," says Technical Insights
(http://technicalinsights.frost.com) Research Analyst Rajesh Kannan. "Thus,
the ultimate goal in applying RF MEMS is to propagate the device-level
benefits all the way up to the system level."
Components based on MEMS technology not only deliver superior RF
performance and tunability, but do so over a much broader range of operating
frequencies. For instance, an RF MEMS switch concurrently provides improved
insertion loss, isolation and linearity.
RF MEMS devices can potentially be used as microswitches to build
impedance networks in front of power amplifiers and to decrease the number of
components in multistandard mobile phones. They can also be used as MEMS
inductors and tunable capacitors for integrated voltage-controlled
oscillators (VCOs) in global positioning systems (GPSs).
Since this technology enables superior passive devices, it is ideally
suited for numerous wireless appliances operating in the home/ground, mobile,
and space spheres such as handsets, base stations, and satellites. In fact,
with RF MEMS' characteristic properties of low power consumption and
reconfigurability, ubiquitous wireless connectivity may no longer be a
Current research efforts are aimed at developing a single-chip RF circuit
in response to wireless system manufacturers' need for lower weight, volume,
cost and increased functionality. With companies looking to integrate MEMS
devices directly on the RF chip, numerous discrete components could be
replaced, thereby offering enhanced performance and reliability along with
significant cost savings.
"The industry is only now beginning to see the advantages of such
integrated devices," says Kannan. "Over time, this integration can lead to
the replacement of all passive RF chips with on-chip devices, offering
considerable benefits such as smaller form factors for cell phones and added
functionalities including Internet connectivity."
As telecom systems grow increasingly sophisticated, researchers
continuously attempt to improve RF MEMS devices in terms of size and
performance. An interesting way of achieving this is to introduce new
materials in their fabrication. However, such materials will not only have to
possess advanced electrical and mechanical properties, their elaboration
process must also be fully compatible with all other steps involved in
The pulsed laser deposition (PLD) method has shown significant potential
in depositing thin-films with different properties of various materials even
at room temperature. Researchers at the University of Limoges in France are
now exploring the electro-mechanical properties of aluminium oxide and
tetrahedral amorphous carbon (ta-C) thin-films deposited at room temperature
using PLD. Their research has yielded several examples illustrating the
integration of such materials in RF MEMS device fabrication.
Researchers believe that such devices have numerous promising
applications. Aluminium oxide as dielectric in MEMS capacitive switches is
one such application. They are also exploring the possibility of small-sized
MEMS switches that could reduce switching time and ease the integration of
this component above complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) circuitry.
In other interesting developments, a research team at the University of
Dortmund has developed a concept for a completely CMOS-compatible integrated
surface RF MEMS switch using the electrostatic actuating principle.
Typically, MEMS integration in the CMOS process takes place pre-CMOS,
intermediate-CMOS or post-CMOS.
This concept is based on the monolithic integration of a
microelectromechanical switch by method of the intermediate-CMOS fabrication.
Researchers say that only minor modifications of the CMOS process are
required to integrate the MEMS switch in the process flow. Since all
additional process steps are taken from the CMOS technology, the entire
process remains CMOS-compatible.
"Since almost exclusively CMOS-process steps are deployed and no
additional equipment is needed for the fabrication, this makes it easy to
transfer the process to every other CMOS-technology-line," says Kannan.
"Researchers hope that further integration with already published integrated
optical and mechanical processes will allow the realisation of very complex
Advances in RF MEMS Technology is part of the Industrial Automation
vertical subscription service, and provides a detailed analysis of emerging
RF MEMS technologies and their major potential applications. It discusses
important technology developments and trends worldwide in the RF MEMS domain,
and provides a breakdown of critical ongoing research by region. Executive
summaries and analyst interviews are available to the press.
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