Above-IC RF MEMS devices for communication applications

Wireless communications are showing an explosive growth in emerging consumer and military applications of radiofrequency (RF), microwave, and millimeter-wave circuits and systems. Applications include wireless personal connectivity (Bluetooth), wireless local area networks (WLAN), mobile communication systems (GSM, GPRS, UMTS, CDMA), satellite communications and automotive electronics. Future cell phones and ground communication systems as well as communication satellites will require more and more sophisticated technologies. The increasing demand for size and weight reduction, cost savings, low power consumption, increased frequency and higher functionality and reconfigurability as part of multiband and multistandard operation is necessitating the use of highly integrated RF front-end circuits. Chip scaling has made a major contribution to this goal, but today a situation has been reached where the presence of numerous off-chip passive RF components imposes a critical bottleneck to further integration and miniaturization of wireless transceivers. Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology is a rapidly emerging enabling technology that is intended to replace the discrete passives by their integrated counterparts. In this thesis, an original metal surface micromachining process, which is compatible with CMOS post-processing, for above-IC integration of RF MEMS tunable capacitors and suspended inductors is presented. A detailed study on SF6 inductively coupled plasma (ICP) releasing has been performed in order to ascertain the optimal process parameters. This study has emphasized the fact that temperature plays an important role in this process by limiting silicon dioxide etching. Moreover, the optimized recipe has been found to be independent of the sacrificial layer used (amorphous or polycrystalline silicon) and its thickness. Using this recipe, 15.6 µm/min Si underetch rate with high Si: SiO2 selectivity (> 20000: 1) has been obtained. Single-air-gap and double-air-gap parallel-plate MEMS tunable capacitors have been designed, fabricated and characterized in the pF range, from 1 MHz to 13.5 GHz. It has been shown that an optimized design of the suspended membrane and direct symmetrical current feed at both ports can significantly improve the quality factor and increase the self-resonant frequency, pushing it to 12 GHz and beyond. The maximum capacitance tuning range obtained for a single-air-gap capacitor is 29% for a bias voltage of 20 V. The maximum capacitance tuning range obtained for a double-air-gap capacitor is 207% for a bias voltage of 70 V. The post-processing of X-FAB BiCMOS wafers has been successfully demonstrated to fabricate monolithically integrated VCOs with above-IC MEMS LC tank. Comparing a suspended inductor and the X-FAB inductor with the same design, it has been shown that increasing the thickness of the spiral from 2.3 to 4 µm and having the spiral suspended 3 µm above the passivation layers lead to an improvement factor of 2 for the peak quality factor and a shift of the self-resonant frequency beyond 15 GHz. No significant variation on bipolar and MOS transistors characteristics due to the post-processing has been observed and we conclude that the variation due to post-processing is in the same range as the wafer-to-wafer variation. Based on our metal surface micromachining process, coplanar waveguide (CPW) MEMS shunt capacitive switches and variable true-time delay lines (V-TTDLs) have been designed, fabricated and characterized in the 1 - 20 GHz range. A novel MEMS device architecture: the SG-MOSFET, which combines a solid-state MOS transistor and a metal suspended gate has been proposed as DC current switch. The corresponding fabrication process using polysilicon as a sacrificial layer has been developed to release metal gate suspended over gate oxide by SF6 plasma. Very abrupt current switches have been demonstrated with subthreshold slope better than 10 mV/decade (better than the theoretical solid-state bulk or SOI MOSFET limit of 60 mV/decade) and ultra-low gate leakage (less than 0.001 pA/µm2) due to the air-gap.

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