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Brazil aims to Jumpstart the Development of the Semiconductor Industry with a Focus on RFID technology

Radio frequency identification (RFID) has become a solid, ubiquitous technology that is implemented throughout the world – and Brazil is no exception. What is the exception is that now Brazil wants to bring the eyes of the world upon them as a designer and manufacturer of these RFID chips.

Brazil’s demand and their growing economy make it the ideal development platform for its burgeoning semiconductor industry. In fact, it is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. As of 2010, Brazil’s GDP was a sizzling 7.5%. Last year’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate slowed to a more sustainable 2.7% average, while for the same year, 2011, the average GDP for Europe was 1.8% and 2.5% for the United States.

Brazil is currently the sixth largest economy in the world and is expected to move up a notch by 2013. Therefore, there is significant confidence in Brazil’s economy; and Brazil is aiming to become as well known for its semiconductor industry, as it is for its beaches!

The movement to develop the semiconductor industry is part of a larger effort to diversify the Brazilian economy – and it is paying off. To begin with, Brazil’s government created in 2008 and is funding CEITEC S.A., a for-profit company encompassing IC Design and CMOS manufacturing units. (see Figure 1). The initiative that CEITEC is part of is the result of a partnership between governmental entities, universities, research centers, US corporations and Brazilian companies.  There has been a significant amount of interest from foreign investors, as well. For example, two Silicon Valley venture capital firms, Repoint Ventures and Accel Partners have made multiple investments in Brazil.

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CEITEC in-depth
The main objective of CEITEC is to provide an incentive for the development of a production environment for semiconductors by implementing world class design and manufacturing capabilities in Brazil. It is focused on the development of mixed signal integrated circuits (ICs) with an emphasis on RFID. They have produced three RFID chip designs and are currently bringing up a 6” wafer fab that licensed technology from X-FAB foundries.  As such, CEITEC is part of the technology and industrial development policy of the Brazilian government and is funded by a line item in the national budget, signaling the support behind Brazil’s drive to be at the top of the semiconductor development food chain. Brazilian jet maker Embraer and oil company Petrobras were once wholly owned by the government as well and set high standards for the future of CEITEC in its business area. To date, CEITEC’s work has culminated in a world-class RFID technology platform for livestock tracking.

Brazil’s RFID Deployment
However, RFID isn’t new to Brazil. The adoption of RFID in Brazil was given a boost by a series of laws passed at the end of the last decade, in an effort to move the country’s development forward. These charters target agriculture, object tracking and transportation as significant segments in which to integrate RFID technology. The enactment of these laws has given CEITEC a further boost to develop Brazil’s high-tech semiconductor industry.

Brazil’s RFID technology
Brazil, like most of the rest of the world, uses RFID in the three major frequency bands. They are:

  • Low-frequency (LF) – 125 kHz to 135 kHz
  • High-frequency (HF) – 13.56 MHz
  • Ultra-high frequency – (UHF) – 915 MHz

The LF band will be used primarily for animal tracking. The HF band will be used as the frequency of choice for food stuffs, perishables and citizen’s identification. Finally, the UHF band will be the frequency at which logistics and vehicular technologies will be deployed.

Brazil’s Future Plans
Going forward, Brazil has set up a business model that includes plans to own their own fab. They plan to produce commercial application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) for use both within Brazil and for export. To accomplish this, Brazil’s government will subsidize research and development and support outsourcing production.

Conclusion
With its stabilizing economy, Brazil has a good shot at becoming a major player in the world-wide microelectronics industry. The Brazilian government’s enthusiastic support of CEITEC and its mandates to make RFID technology ubiquitous throughout Brazil, and across multiple applications, signals to the world that Brazil is ready to compete.

Brazil also has both the technical expertise and internal inertia to make it the leading South American semiconductor producer and a reference in microelectronics innovation for emerging technologies. Brazil is definitely a place to keep in the center of the radar screen.

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