Comms chips

SiC 'Em? GaN Bling? Infineon Drops $850M on Wolfspeed

Infineon Technologies AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: IFX) is shoring up its position in power ICs by buying Cree Inc. (Nasdaq: CREE)'s Wolfspeed Power and RF division for $850 million (740 million Euros).

Infineon already had expertise in silicon carbide (SiC, a.k.a. carborundum) and gallium nitride (GaN) when in 2014 it announced the $3 billion acquisition of International Rectifier, which had been pursuing the same technologies. The purchase of Wolfspeed will expand its position further.

SiC and GaN are wide bandgap semiconductors that have similar properties that both make them superior to silicon for certain power and RF applications.

GaN and SiC both currently excel in niches, but with silicon approaching limits in physics, they both also represent possible paths forward for increasing the performance of devices that today can still be made significantly less expensively in silicon. "How much longer?" doesn't have an answer yet, but that the question comes up is significant.

Wolfspeed is yet another company with a portfolio of SiC and GaN ICs, and its acquisition will solidify Infineon's position as one of the leading suppliers of these devices. While the basic technologies overlap, Infineon said the acquisition will expand its sales reach into high-growth markets such as electro-mobility, renewables and next-generation cellular infrastructure relevant for the Internet of Things (IoT).

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Infineon noted that its acquisition of Wolfspeed includes that operation's related SiC wafer substrate business for power and RF power. This too is significant. Strictly GaN devices are still difficult to manufacture at very high volumes. GaN on silicon is an alternative, as is GaN-on-SiC; Wolfspeed has production expertise with those alternatives.

Infineon CEO Reinhard Ploss said with Wolfspeed, Infineon will become number one in SiC-based power semiconductors, and will help position the company to achieve its goal of becoming the leader in RF power.

ICs manufactured in GaN and SiC are far more efficient than their silicon counterparts, especially in high-voltage applications. Wolfspeed in particular has been working to make devices appropriate for lower-voltage applications.

As for the wireless communications market, 5G is expected to operate in the 80GHz range, and only compound semiconductors are considered able to deliver the required efficiencies at such high frequencies.

GaN-on-Si allows higher levels of integration and offers its advantages at operating frequencies of up to 10GHz, Infineon noted, while, GaN-on-SiC enables maximum efficiency at frequencies of up to 80GHz. Both technologies are crucial for next-generation cellular infrastructure standards. Together with its Si-based LDMOS products Infineon is the industry's most complete provider for RF power components.

The deal is expected to close before the end of this year.

— Brian Santo, Senior Editor, Components, T&M, Light Reading

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