Booming market for RF GaN needs more foundry services – An interview of Wavice

RF GaN applications - Source: RF GaN report, 2019, Yole Développement

Over the last years, the RF GaN industry has experienced an impressive growth, owing to GaN’s added value in RF power applications, such as higher power output at high frequencies and smaller footprint. As reported in “RF GaN 2019: Applications, players, devices, and technologies” from Yole Développement (Yole), the overall GaN RF market is expected to reach $2B by 2024, driven by two main applications: wireless infrastructure and defense.

With the arrival of 5G, GaN finds a sweet spot in sub 6GHz macrocell base stations and small cells operating in the mm-wave (above 24GHz). At the same time, GaN has a great opportunity in military applications including military radar, electronic warfare and military communications, which prioritize deployment of high-end, high-performance systems. In this context, GaN RF has been recognized by industrial companies and has clearly become mainstream. Players are increasing revenue very rapidly and are strengthening their IP portfolio to dominate the RF GaN supply chain. Amongst the noticeable new entrants in the RF GaN IP ecosystem, according to Knowmade’s RF GaN Patent Landscape 2019, Korea’s Wavice targets both the military and telecom markets with innovative GaN based discrete and PA module technology. Today, Yole has the opportunity to meet Hyunje Kim, Senior Executive Director of Corporate Strategy at Wavice Inc. to discuss Wavice’s technology status and the company’s roadmap for the coming years.

This interview has been conducted by Ezgi Dogmus, PhD., Technology & Market Analyst, Compound Semiconductors & Emerging Materials and Hong Lin, PhD., Senior Technology & Market Analyst, Compound Semiconductors & Emerging Materials, at Yole Développement.

Ezgi Dogmus & Hong Lin (ED & HL): Could you please briefly introduce Wavice and its history to our readers ? What is your business model and why has Wavice chosen such a business model?

Hyunje Kim (HK) : Wavice is a spinoff of the former GaN PA division of Gigalane, a KOSDAQ listed semiconductor process equipment and RF component provider. PA division of Gigalane started government programs on RF active components since 2011. Wavice was established in May 2017, and since then has continued working on ROK defense programs initiated by Gigalane. It embarked on developing GaN Transistors with a funding from ADD(Agency for Defense Development; ADD is the only South Korean national agency for research and development in defense technology funded by Defense Acquisition Program Administration) in 2015. After three years of effort, Wavice successfully developed a GaN transistor for the first time in a manufacturing environment at home, ROK.

Our business model mainly consists of two parts. The first is for defense applications. We are planning to expand our module business, i.e. SSPA/TRM, etc., based on the competency derived from GaN transistor manufacturing capability, which is the core component of such modules. The second part is for the commercial market. We are targeting 5G telecom market and the main  focus is on providing dies against the backdrop of current market status quo. There is a great demand for GaN dies across the world, and the supply is very limited. It is not expected that the supply bottleneck will be relieved in the near future due to the relatively high technology barrier of reliable and manufacturable GaN devices. Wavice is ready to kick off such GaN device mass production with shorter time to market and soon will be able to fill the gap. 

ED & HL: What is your product portfolio/product line/service?

HK:

  • Dies: currently 0.4um is processed, which supports up to maximum 6GHz frequency.  Wavice’s standard die supply will officially begin in April 2019. In addition, PDK development is on-going, aiming to open a foundry service at the end of 2019.
  • PKG: we provide unmatched TR, pre-matched TR, in/out 50ohm matched TR(IMFET) products to both commercial and defense markets.
  • RF module: we concentrate on providing SSPA and TRM which is used mostly in defense radar systems. Moreover, we plan to expand our product line to include commercial weather radar and e-Warfare, including seekers and jammers.

ED & HL: What is specificity/added-value of your GaN RF products?

HK: Wavice’s highest priority in product development is reliability, to be recognized as the world’s no.1 in reliability. This is because GaN is mostly used for products that are operated 24/7, 365 days per year. Therefore, long-term reliability is critical, and we strive to introduce products that are more robust than any other products available in the market. We successfully developed the most reliable GaN in the world by combining Wavice’s proprietary technology with transistors.

Courtesy of Wavice – 2019

ED & HL: Which applicative markets do you target with GaN products/services?

HK: Our main target markets are 5G wireless communication infrastructure, e-Warfare and surveillance & reconnaissance for defense.

ED & HL: Does Wavice develop RF modules and discrete products?

HK: RF modules such as Tx Pallet and SSPA are provided for defense products. Wavice already is a top-tier provider for defense GaN modules in Korea. Mass production of dies will begin in 2019, and we plan to mainly supply dies to wireless infrastructure market.

ED & HL: Which kind of packaging is used for Wavice GaN products, and does it vary for each applicative market?

HK:

  • Ceramic package in CPC or CMC form is used as with many other providers. For certain specific products, we use an AlN substrate package.
  • Severe price competitiveness sparked plastic packaging development. It also initiated research on packaging materials as well as material bonding of the GaN transistor with a heatsink in the package
  • It would be more appropriate to say that packaging should be selected based on the output of the product rather than the applicable product itself. For example, plastic packaging can be applied to products with output 5W(based on Psat) and below as it costs less and will not be affected by radiant heat. On the other hand, ceramic packaging is used for products with high output e.g. 320W(based on Psat) to resolve any issues caused by radiant heat. This is a challenge that all providers need to confront, not just Wavice.

ED & HL: What technical trends have you observed for GaN RF devices, at chip level, at packaging level?

HK: Current trend is leading toward a low-cost package, one that is more favorable for mass production as GaN starts to be applied in the commercial market in large-scale.

ED & HL: What is the technology node of your GaN products i.e. gate length, substrate and wafer size?

HK: Gate length is 0.4um and 4” GaN-on-SiC is used. 0.25um is planned to be introduced at the end of 2019.

ED & HL: There is a fierce competition with LDMOS, GaN and other semiconductor platforms with the upcoming 5G. What is our point of view for sub 6 GHz and mmWave applications, respectively?

HK: GaN already has firmly set its foothold in the 5G market as the main technology. GaN is the key technology now, as LDMOS’s sub 6GHz for 5G communication has some technical issues.

mmWave still seems to be a process to identify problems with various competing solutions. Issues specifically related to product reliability and performance continue to be discovered and pros/cons differ for each possible solution, so it is crucial for a particular solution to resolve these issues as soon as possible and become the core technology.

ED & HL: What is Wavice’s position in this market and cost ($/W) of your product for telecom market today?

HK: Globally, there are only a handful of GaN die providers, so the die supply is insufficient. Wavice triumphed by developing products with top-notch reliability and our mass production process has also been verified. Wavice is striving to establish our position as a stable GaN die provider.

ED & HL: Could you please describe your product roadmap in GaN products for the next years?

HK: In Wavice’s product roadmap for 2020, we aim to open 0.4 MMIC for foundry services and release X/Ku-Band Discrete TR for Packaged TR.

ED & HL: What is your target revenue and targeted capacity (?) for GaN on SiC RF technology in five years?

HK: Wavice targets USD 100M in total revenue, including both commercial and defense market, in 2023.

ED & HL: According to Knowmade’s latest GaN RF Patent report, there is an increasing patent activity worldwide and Wavice is identified as a rising star in GaN RF patent activity. Could you please tell us about your patent portfolio and patent strategy?

HK: The patent portfolio of Wavice is composed of two main areas of technology, manufacturability and reliability of GaN HEMT devices. GaN HEMT is one of the most successful devices based on metamorphic epi materials. It has been showing higher power density, stronger ESD performance, lower thermal resistance per device area, etc. However, it is only so when you compare a small number of GaN HEMT devices to other competing technologies. It is neither ready for low cost mass production nor anywhere near the theoretical performance limit of the material system. GaN HEMT device development has been mostly focused on showing the best possible performance rather than on improving manufacturability or reliability. Wavice’s technology promotes maximal performance, moreover our patents are mostly to protect the technologies we are currently using in device production.

Interviewee:

Hyunje Kim is Senior executive director and a member of the board at Wavice Inc. Previously, he had the opportunity to work at Hyosung Corporation, as a Senior Manager, business development as well as at Bain & Company as a management consultant.

Hyunje Kim graduated with an MBA from the Wharton School as well as with BA in Economics from Seoul National University.

Interviewers:

As a Technology & Market Analyst, Compound Semiconductors, Ezgi Dogmus, PhD. is member of the Power & Wireless division at Yole Développement (Yole). She is daily contributing to the development of these activities with a dedicated collection of market & technology reports as well as custom consulting projects.
Prior Yole, Ezgi was deeply involved in the development of GaN-based solutions at IEMN (Lille, France). Ezgi also participated in numerous international conferences and has authored or co-authored more than 12 papers.
Upon graduating from University of Augsburg (Germany) and Grenoble Institute of Technology (France), Ezgi received her PhD in Microelectronics at IEMN (France).

Hong Lin, PhD. works at Yole Développement (Yole), as a Senior Technology and Market Analyst, Compound Semiconductors within the Power & Wireless division since 2013. She is specialized in compound semiconductors and provides technical and economic analysis. Before joining Yole Développement, she worked as R&D engineer at Newstep Technologies. She was in charge of the development of cold cathodes by PECVD for visible and UV lamp applications based on nanotechnologies. She holds a Ph.D in Physics and Chemistry of materials.

Related reports:

RF GaN Market: Applications, Players, Technology and Substrates 2019

GaN RF market growth is fed by military and 5G wireless infrastructure applications.

RF GaN Patent Landscape 2019

The RF GaN market is developing fast, driven by mm-wave, 5G and defense applications. Do current leading market players have the right IP portfolios to face huge opportunities for GaN devices?

Source: www.yole.fr, www.wavice.com

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