The RF GaN device market: a roller-coaster ride

An article written by Poshun Chiu, Technology & Market Analyst specializing and Ezgi Dogmus, PhD, Team Lead Analyst, both in Compound Semiconductor & Emerging Substrates activity within the Power & Wireless Division, from Yole Développement (Yole), for Microwave Journal

In as little as five years, analysts at Yole Développement (Yole) predict the already mighty RF GaN device market will mushroom from some $900 million to $2.4 billion (see Figure 1). Three decades of investment from defense organizations around the world has placed this high power density, high efficiency material firmly on the compound semiconductor map, with GaN devices routinely used in military radar and electronic warfare. As defense agencies look to commercial applications to pay back their billion-dollar investments, 5G/LTE telecoms applications are already providing a return on the investment. At least for now.

BASE STATION ADOPTION

China’s Huawei started using GaN RF devices in its 4G LTE remote radio heads (RRH) in 2014. The telecom behemoth had decided to trade low-cost Si LDMOS for GaN’s high power density and wide bandwidth and other OEMs followed. Today, the power of GaN is being harnessed by the 5G infrastructure market. Tried-and-tested GaN on SiC technology is widely used in 5G sub-6 GHz RRH base stations and is expected to maintain its stronghold for some time.

In part due to the monumental 5G network sharing deal between operators in China, the technology is also being adopted in 5G sub-6 GHz active antenna systems (AASs). To deploy more efficient antenna types, the Chinese operators ditched cheaper LDMOS transistors for higher performing GaN on SiC devices in these sub-6 GHz AAS deployments, a decision that kick-started GaN adoption elsewhere. Today, other OEMs have realized the value that GaN can bring to 5G wireless infrastructure and are moving to six-inch GaN on SiC wafer production in a bid to reduce the technology’s high price tag.

In 2020, NXP, the Netherlands-based semiconductor manufacturer and key LDMOS player, opened a six-inch GaN on SiC facility in Arizona, signaling strong customer interest in GaN RF devices for a cost-effective price. This year, longtime GaN on SiC partners, Sumitomo Electric Device Innovations (SEDI) of Japan and U.S. semiconductor manufacturer, II-VI, opened a six-inch fab in New Jersey to churn out power transistors for 5G base stations at a more cost-competitive price. As NXP and SEDI/II-VI ramp up production, U.S. semiconductor makers Wolfspeed, Qorvo and other fabs are acting to transition to six-inch GaN on SiC production—clear signs the technology is set to capture market share from LDMOS (see Figure 2).

INTERNATIONAL TENSIONS

But what about the ongoing trade conflict between the U.S. and China? How is this affecting the GaN RF device market? Like the U.S., the Chinese government is determined to make the most of its GaN investments and grow commercial 5G applications. While U.S. sanctions have stymied China’s progress, the restrictions have also pushed the government to encourage development of a home-grown, internal GaN ecosystem…

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Source: https://www.microwavejournal.com/

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