ABI: Tiny MEMS Technology Will Become Big for Mobile Phones in 2008

Warning: technical language ahead.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s proceed.

Ever hear of MEMS (short for Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems)? Neither had I until reading a recent report from ABI Research claiming that, starting in 2008, this technology will be all the rage in mobile handsets.

Okay, so what the heck is MEMS? Wikipedia defines it as a very small technology (most devices range in size from a millionth to a thousandth of a meter), useful in a variety of applications including inkjet printers, airbags, tire pressure sensors, disposable blood pressure sensors, and smartdust.

Apparently, MEMS also is potentially useful in mobile phones. Makes sense, since more and more functions are being packed into the handsets we carry around. It will take some very small bits and pieces to make all those applications work in a form factor that can be slipped easily into a pocket or a purse.

ABI’s report cites the size, flexibility, and performance of MEMS technology as key reasons why it will soon be part of all handsets.

Okay, so here’s a question: if MEMS is to great, why isn’t it already part of all mobile handsets?

Here’s ABI analyst Alan Varghese: “The traditional challenges for MEMS related to the difficulty of reliably manufacturing components at high volumes, effective packaging techniques, long-term device reliability, technology cost, and supply chain robustness, all of which had a damping effect on the industry. However the MEMS industry has been addressing these concerns, and innovative solutions are being offered in high volume markets such as mobile phones and consumer devices.”

ABI said in its report that MEMS has five major application areas in mobile phones:

  • RF filters
  • Adaptive tuning circuits
  • Resonators and oscillators
  • Audio microphones
  • Accelerometers
  • Motion sensors

Okay, did you catch all that? (If you didn’t, this detailed look at how cell phones work, from HowStuffWorks.com, may be helpful. The site also has entries for oscillators, microphones, and motion sensing lights/alarms).

One challenge does remain for the use of MEMS technology: cost of manufacturing compared to incumbent solutions. As with all technologies, though, economies of scale soon will render that barrier obsolete.

Some of the companies ABI says already are innovating in the MEMS space, and are worth watching, include:

  • WiSpry – developer of MEMS-based RF capacitors, tunable filters, duplexers, and RF switches
  • XCOM Wireless – focused on making the front end of mobile phones as agile and tunable as a software radio
  • Avago Technologies – this company’s MEMS-based FBAR filters are useful for filtering higher frequency bands used in cellular applications
  • Discera and SiTime – producers of resonator/oscillator sections for handsets
  • Knowles Acoustics – currently rules the MEMS roost, but soon will be knocked from its perch by other companies such as Akustica, Sonion, and Matsushita

I’ve made a mental note to file MEMS away in my mind as an emerging technology to keep an eye on. How about you?

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Good work, bringing this into the public view. Check out SiTime to see how MEMS fits into the consumer electronic world =-)


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