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RF DEVICES & TECHNOLOGIES

The revolutionary transition toward 5G implementation in the next five years is dramatically reshaping the radio-frequency (RF) technology landscape. This is not only true for smartphones, but also RF telecommunication infrastructure applications above 3W, and 5G will offer enormous opportunities for compound semiconductors in this ‘RF power’ market.

Yole Développement (Yole) expects the market to grow strongly in coming years with increasing demand for telecom base station upgrades and small cell implementations. Overall market revenue could increase 75% between 2016 and the end of 2022, posting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.8%. This would be a change from $1.5B in 2016 to more than $2.5B in 2022. For details, see Yole’s new RF Power Market and Technologies 2017: GaN, GaAs and LDMOS report.

 (Source: RF Power Market and Technologies 2017: GaN, GaAs and LDMOS, July 2017, Yole Développement)

We are today standing at the threshold of completing the 4G network, and then beginning the transition to 5G. There’re still a lot to be settled and established, however some things are for sure: the new radio network will require more devices and higher frequencies. Chip providers therefore have a tremendous opportunity, especially RF power semiconductor sellers. Yole estimates in its new report that telecom infrastructure, including base stations and wireless backhaul, accounts for about half of the total market. It will continue growing fast, at an expected 12.5% CAGR for base stations and 5.3% CAGR for telecom backhaul over 2016–2022.

The growth of the base station market and in general of RF infrastructure parallels a major technology transition. That transition will see GaN replace LDMOS in all macro base station implementations above 3.5GHz, while GaAs benefits from the increased need from small cell networks. Future network designs will also use new technologies like carrier aggregation and massive multiple input, multiple output (MIMO). This will put GaN, with its high efficiency and broadband capability, in a better position than LDMOS. Revenues from GaN RF devices are expected to reach $1.1B in 2022, accounting for almost 45% of the total RF GaN market.

The technology transition from LDMOS and GaAs to GaN and GaAs is also impacting the supply chain. Today’s leading players in the RF markets are still the leaders in LDMOS, however with GaN’s penetration things are set to change very rapidly. Most of the leading GaN players are from the GaAs industry. Only one pure GaN player has emerged, namely Wolfspeed. Meanwhile, LDMOS players are trying to enter this market by using external GaN foundries, but it is taking time and effort. Infineon’s attempt to acquire Wolfspeed was an insightful strategic move that could have secured a winning position in the future RF power market, and also GaN power electronics. However, the Infineon-Wolfspeed deal was rejected by the US government.

Yole Evolution RP Power industry supply chain

(Source: RF Power Market and Technologies 2017: GaN, GaAs and LDMOS, July 2017, Yole Développement)

As the market grows rapidly, litigation has also started. M/A-COM has initiated legal action against Infineon concerning GaN-on-silicon technology, which created a great sensation over the last year and signifies the strategic importance of GaN technology. If you want a regular review of GaN patents and litigation, KnowMade is now releasing a monthly update of GaN patent activities, see more details about III-N Patent Watch.

Outside of telecommunication infrastructure, the defense market is growing steadily as GaN and GaAs solid state devices replace old vacuum tubes. New designs are mostly GaN. Most of the other applications and related markets are relatively small, with the exception of ‘RF energy’, which includes wireless charging and whose big potential could possibly save LDMOS. Yole expects that RF energy applications will grow at an astonishing 93% CAGR, reaching $170M in 2022. And this is just the beginning, as more is coming for electric vehicle wireless charging, which is set to be implemented in the next 10-15 years at a major scale. Most of this market will use LDMOS, which will help silicon-based RF device makers as most of the existing LDMOS applications transition toward GaN.

A big market transition coupled with an even more important technology transition for the next five years – we can expect a lot of new activity in RF power markets!

Source: www.yole.fr

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