NXP Pushes 5G With New Arizona Fab Focused on GaN Power Amplifiers

October 02, 2020 by Luke James

NXP Semiconductors has announced the opening of its new high-volume RF GaN fab in Chandler, Arizona, representing the United States’ most advanced fab dedicated to 5G RF power amplifiers.

NXP recently opened its latest fab, a 150 mm (6-inch) RF gallium nitride (GaN) facility based in Chandler, Arizona, which the company is calling “the most advanced fab dedicated to 5G RF power amplifiers in the United States."


TSMC Arizona fab

TSMC claims its new Arizona fab is the most advanced GaN fab for power amplifiers in the U.S. Image used courtesy of NXP

The new factory combines NXP’s near two decades of expertise in GaN development and RF power with its high-volume manufacturing capabilities. This will support the expansion of 5G base stations and advanced infrastructure in markets including industrial, defense, and aerospace.


GaN’s Role in 5G: The New Gold Standard?

5G has massively increased the density of RF solutions required per antenna. At the same time, however, it’s necessary to both maintain the same box size and reduce power consumption, which is a challenge for manufacturers because, for power components, less power consumption typically means a larger footprint. 

Challenges such as these breed innovation though, and these conflicting requirements have led to the emergence of gallium nitride (GaN) power transistors as the new “gold standard” to address them, says NXP’s announcement. 


Opening the new Arizona-based GaN fab

Opening the new Arizona-based GaN fab with Governor Doug Ducey and other federal, state, and local government representatives. Image used courtesy of NXP

GaN is a wide bandgap semiconductor. This means that chips based on it can handle much higher voltages in a smaller footprint than silicon, which itself is used in LDMOS technology currently found at the core of radio amplifiers in today’s 4G networks. It also offers higher power density and thus brings huge leaps in performance in terms of lower current consumption and higher efficiency.  

By opening its new GaN fab, NXP hopes to bolster its supply of advanced GaN RF chips as the rollout of 5G continues worldwide.


Arizona: an “Innovation Hub” for Chip Development

The factory will serve as what NXP referred to as an “innovation hub” to facilitate collaboration between the fab and NXP’s on-site research and development team. This will lead to quicker production cycles for NXP GaN devices with on-site engineers given everything they need for more rapid development and validation for current and future GaN devices. 

Arizona seems to be a hotbed for silicon development, too. Earlier this year, TSMC announced plans to build a $12 billion fab in Arizona in a response to the U.S. government's call for more domestic chip factories


Corporate 5G Developments in the Works

NXP’s announcement is the latest in a long line of global 5G-related developments.

Just recently in the United Kingdom, Finnish multinational telecom giant Nokia completed a deal to become the largest equipment provider to BT Group plc, the UK’s largest provider of fixed-line, broadband, and mobile services. As part of this deal, Nokia will replace Huawei in BT’s existing 2G and 4G networks and play a pivotal role in the UK’s ongoing 5G roll-out. 


Nokia will become the largest 5G provider in the UK through the deal

Nokia will become the largest 5G provider in the UK through the deal. Image used courtesy of the BBC

With the worldwide 5G roll-out well underway and Huawei banned from the mobile networks of several Western nations (and Japan and Taiwan), it’s an exciting time for telecom companies and semiconductor manufacturers to bolster system-level development.

NXP’s new fab is expected to reach full capacity by the end of 2020.