Freescale Semiconductor Inc. (FSL) said Sunday it has produced the first commercially viable gallium arsenide MOSFET device, a transistor that could dramatically improve the performance of chips used in consumer electronics.

MOSFETs (metal-oxide semiconductor field effect transistors) are predominantly made with silicon, and while the performance of silicon semiconductors has improved vastly over the years, GaAs, or gallium arsenide MOSFETs, are said to conduct electrons up to 20 times faster than traditional silicon MOSFETs.

"We've been doing research on this for the past 10 years, and the industry in general has been researching this area since the 1960s, but most of the devices made have performed at less than one percent of what was required to make them commercially applicable" said Karl Johnson, director of Freescale's Microwave and Mixed Signal Technologies Laboratory.

"We feel comfortable that what we've produced is a manufacturable, high yielding technology that can be implemented in our products," continued Johnson. "We have addressed what we believe are many, if not all, of the technical issues."

Historically, leakage, or uncontrolled current, has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the development of gallium arsenide MOSFETs, but Freescale said its GaAs MOSFET suffers minimal leakage.

Another problem with gallium arsenide MOSFETs is cost: Gallium arsenide tends to be more expensive since it's less abundant than silicon.

"We're trying to address the issue of cost," Johnson said. "We're very aware of cost sensitivity and we're looking at ways to make this technology affordable."

It may be a technical milestone for the semiconductor industry, but it could be years before consumers reap the benefits. Freescale estimates that it may be three to five years before the MOSFET is manufactured, and even then, it may be used predominantly in specialty applications.

Until then, the Austin, Texas company will look for ways to commercialize the device, which could include licensing agreements.

"We're going to first and foremost start working with customers to commercialize the technology, that's the first priority, and to the extent that we can find companies in complementary markets, who don't compete with us head to head, we may look at licensing agreements with them," said Sumit Sadana, Freescale's senior vice president of strategy and business development and acting chief technology officer.