CMOS RF Enables Transformation of IoT Satellite Communications

September 21, 2018

CMOS RF/mmWave Technologies Enable the Transformation of IoT Satellite Communications

S3semi are excited to be present at the upcoming European Microwave Week 2018 conference and our very own Cormac O’Sullivan is giving a presentation on: “A Highly Integrated Transceiver for Mobile Satellite Services User Terminals Incorporating Dual Receivers for Satellite Handover and Digital PreDistortion for PA Linearization on 0.18μm CMOS”. To coincide with this event, we look at some of the ongoing developments which are transforming satellite communications and their impact on the IoT.


The explosive growth in IoT is placing huge demands on wireless connectivity and IoT networks are relying on satellite communications to enable seamless global coverage by “filling in” gaps in LTE and, soon, 5G coverage. The promise of High Throughput Satellite (HTS) services is increasingly being delivered as IoT Satellite backhaul connectivity and other services move to the higher, mmWave, frequencies offered by Ku/Ka band and space segment costs reduce.
The pressure is now on the size and costs of satellite terminals. Traditional dishes are being replaced by lower profile, “flat panel” antennas and terminals are becoming smaller and faster thanks to recent advances in CMOS technology, now the most attractive option for mmWave circuits.
We examine some of the factors enabling this evolution in satellite communications and how S3semi’s offering of RF IP and custom ASICs using standard CMOS can be deployed in small-size, low-cost solutions.

Overview of developments in satellite communications

A number of trends are emerging to make access to satellite communications feasible for a wider range of applications:

  • The insatiable demand for bandwidth on the move, driven by applications such as the connected car, AI & augmented reality, has strengthened the business case for using satellite and significant amounts of capital are flowing into the industry
  • CubeSats have moved into the commercial arena, with their lower launch costs enabling their use in low-earth orbit (LEO) for IoT applications, including remote sensing or communications
  • Intense competition is shaking up the economics of the space segment, with a raft of companies such as OneWeb, SpaceX, and Arianespace driving innovations in satellite production, launch, and space services costs. The next few years will see a wave of new satellite constellations being deployed in the Ka-Band and Ku-Bands

With these developments beginning to open up HTS to the mass market, the pressure is now on the size and cost of satellite terminals, which threaten to remain a barrier to mass market adoption. IoT applications demand low cost, low power consumption, high network capacity, and long range, putting pressure on the designers of the RF components required to connect objects.

Developments in Satellite Terminals

Successful production of RF SoCs (System on Chip) using CMOS technology requires specialist skills and experience and, with over 20 years in the field, S3semi have built a wide-ranging IP portfolio covering all of the main RF transceiver building blocks, such as LNA (low-noise amplifiers), Mixers, VCOs (Voltage Controlled Oscillators), Synthesisers/PLLs and ADCs and DACs, (Analog to Digital and Digital to Analog Converters) capable of operating at Gsps.

Case studies using S3 Semiconductors portfolio and expertise

S3semi has an expanding list of projects which demonstrates their ability to produce low cost, low power, and small form factor RF devices, enabling up to 80% reduction in their customers’ bill of materials.

A long-standing relationship with Iridium has seen S3Semi develop the RF transceiver for two generations of service (legacy network and now NEXT) and 3 generations of products. S3semi was also chosen by the European Space Agency, (ESA), to develop the architecture underpinning the delivery of future innovative mobile satellite communication services. S3semi also recently produced a custom dual-band transceiver ASIC for an IoT application, enabling remote tracking, monitoring, and control of fixed and mobile assets
The capabilities demonstrated by the above projects demonstrate S3semi’s ability to help their customers, such as Iridium and others, to stay at the forefront of the growing IoT Satellite Market.


Satellite space segment economics are being transformed by the IoT’s demand for connectivity. The focus is now on access costs, with size, power consumption and cost being critical factors in satellite terminal and antenna design. CMOS technologies, with their low cost, low power consumption and high levels of integration are key enablers of the RF devices at the heart of a new generation of small and low-cost terminals.

With its long history of designing, producing and delivering low cost, mixed-signal CMOS mmWave RF chips with up to 80% reduction in BoM, S3semi is well placed to support customers with optimizing designs whilst achieving a low cost of ownership and high returns on investment not thought possible with custom chips designs until now.

Recent Posts