Emerging technologies centered primarily on laying the groundwork for 5G are causing IC manufacturers to ramp up their production. As these companies prepare for significantly increased volume requirements, the task of chip performance qualification often falls to the IC designer or staff physicist. On the surface, putting the individuals who designed the chip in charge of its reliability testing makes perfect sense. Who else would have detailed knowledge of a sophisticated new device's inner workings?
What many companies are finding out, however, is that the new high-bandwidth RF operating frequencies needed for 5G applications create a distinct set of complexities. The physics behind device degradation in a mmWave environment vary significantly from standard lower frequency RF- or DC-only parameters. Often, even an intimate working knowledge of the chip's design is not enough to create testing parameters adequate to provide accurate device characterization and reliability data.
Chip manufacturers can gain a competitive advantage by collaborating with Accel-RF. The testing systems manufacturer has decades of experience garnering industry-standard reliability data from devices operating at the Ka-band (26.5-40 GHz) end of the spectrum. Working together, Accel-RF testing experts and chip engineers can solve the challenges of reliability testing in the new generation of RF devices.
How does Accel-RF help physicists assess a device's capabilities?
The benefit of working with Accel-RF typically begins at the initial stages of the test system purchasing process. With their breadth of knowledge about the RF device market, testing experts at Accel-RF can help engineers see beyond the capabilities of chip design and point to uses in different markets than originally intended. Members of the Accel-RF team have helped set some of the reliability testing specifications that define the 5G standard. They understand every aspect of the RF chip industry and willingly share this expertise with their customers.
Chip designers can tend to focus only on the application for which they designed the device. Accel-RF staff can help them look for possible areas where the capabilities of their chip would fit well. Without the benefit of an expanded view of the marketplace, they might miss potential opportunities to embed their design in other types of systems or products.
How does Accel-RF partner with reliability engineers?
For the planned 5G network to work as intended, devices must have a high level of dependability. A few weak links in the chain can dramatically diminish network performance. This critical interdependence places the need for accurate reliability statistics at an all-time high. Having a firm grasp of semiconductor physics and why a particular device is failing is not enough to satisfy industry standards. Precise extractions of data that characterize specific degradation occurrences act as the price of admission into the highly competitive IC arena.
Accel-RF's Life Test is a fully configurable software tool that accomplishes the task of providing this data. As devices undergo Accelerated Life Tests (ALTs), the program records detailed statistical evidence that the manufacturer can use to demonstrate chip performance under a variety of conditions, including high RF drive.
Why is the number of channels tested important?
Statistics drive the accuracy of reliability testing. The number of channels tested correlates directly with the mathematical meaningfulness of the test. The ability to analyze sets of devices as opposed to performing tests one device at a time offers manufacturers a distinct time advantage. A typical reliability test running somewhere between 100 to 1,000 hours is much more efficient if it is performing checks on more than one device. Accel-RF systems feature multiple channels that can be individually configured at the fixture level to run specific analyses on each DUT. However, frequency parameters must be set in functional groups of eight. So a sixteen-channel system could test devices at two different frequencies simultaneously, one frequency setting for channels 1 - 8, and a second setting for channels 9 - 16. This capability gives chip makers attempting to enter various markets with a single device a significantly reduced time investment.
Accel-RF: The Right Partner for the Expanding IC Market
Getting reliability testing right will undoubtedly determine the future success or failure of many companies attempting to enter the growing 5G device market. Building a multi-channel test system with distributed RF stimulus and measurement with the precise controls and resolution required for reliability testing is a significant challenge. It involves dedicating a team of engineers with RF design, RF test, mechanical/thermal and software expertise to build and maintain.
Once the in-house system comes online, it will typically only be useful for a specific analysis. Supporting any new devices or test types would require extensive retooling of the system. The data acquired using this type of proprietary testing equipment can also come into question since there is rarely a baseline standard in place.
The better solution is partnering with the RF testing experts at Accel-RF. The company bases its fully configurable test systems on a modular design. This design affords the customer the flexibility to invest in a base system and add modules as needed. As a collaboration with Accel-RF's industry experts leads to new possible uses for devices, the manufacturer can use their existing test system and add a new module to upgrade to the different testing capabilities required.
Also, the acquired data from Accel-RF systems is known in the industry and generally accepted as trustworthy. Since the company has been around for so long and builds its testing systems around industry standards, no additional convincing is necessary as to the validity of the testing results.
Accel-RF enables its customers to succeed in the 5G wireless device market. RF specialists teamed with semiconductor physics experts creates a team that can effectively tackle the reliability testing challenges posed by the new 5G market.