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Where are the Emerging RF Market Opportunities for GaN?

by Eric Higham | Jun 26, 2012

Just back from Montreal and the IMS2012 Conference. There were a lot of interesting products and technical topics being discussed during the week, but I’d like to focus on the breakfast session entitled “Where are the Emerging RF Market Opportunities for GaN?” that we sponsored in conjunction with Microwave Journal. First off, I’d like to thank the participants from Cree, Nitronex, NXP, RFMD, TriQuint and UMS for their time, effort and input. I’d also like to thank the more than 130 attendees that took time from their schedules to hear some of our latest market forecasts and GaN product developments from the participating companies.

GaN market development has benefitted greatly from funding and research derived from the military industry. In our latest GaN market research, GaN Microelectronics Market Update 2010 – 2015, we conclude that military applications will continue to account for the lion’s share of the GaN market. Even with commercial applications starting to emerge, we are forecasting military markets will still account for slightly more than 2/3 of the estimated ~$180 million GaN market in 2015.

The panelists all did a great job of describing actual GaN products developed at their respective companies. They also confirmed that the properties of GaN make it well suited for products addressing EW, radar and communications applications, by highlighting products with some combination of high power, high efficiency and wide bandwidth performance. Of note were S-band 240W transistors from Cree with 60% PAE, 50W GaN-on-Si MMIC amplifiers from Nitronex operating from 0.8 – 2.2 GHz with 55% PAE, a 500- 2500 MHz amplifier from NXP with between 50 and 75W CW output, 50 – 1000 MHz 15W amplifiers from RFMD with more than 60% PAE, 10W PAs from TriQuint that operate from 2 – 18 GHz and 15W X-band PAs from UMS. The examples just mentioned are only the tip of the iceberg, so please visit the websites of these companies to see the depth and breadth of their product offerings and the extent of their GaN development efforts for military applications.

The presentation of commercial products also proved to be quite interesting. Initially, it seemed power conversion products in automotive applications and power amplifiers in infrastructure applications would lead GaN penetration into commercial markets. When we surveyed the industry for the GaN forecast referenced above, it seemed clear these applications were not seeing any significant GaN adoption. However, it appears that the infrastructure situation may be changing quickly as a couple of the panelists mentioned GaN capturing market share from LDMOS in macro and small cell applications. The efficiency and bandwidth performance of GaN seem to be offering enough of an advantage to achieve design wins. It should be noted that not everyone agreed that GaN, even with the performance advantages (that the LDMOS developers are working hard to minimize) was close enough to LDMOS in price to capture significant market share. So, this is certainly a dynamic market segment that we will be watching closely.

In our research, we found GaN amplifiers for CATV applications are seeing significant adoption. Our panelists agree, with most of them mentioning products for these applications. For CATV infrastructure applications, the higher efficiency of GaN-based amplifiers reduces the power consumption and OPEX, by extension. The other dimension for GaN into this market is in green-field applications (primarily), the networks can use fewer amplifiers to maintain the necessary power levels to the users. We anticipate this will be one of the fastest and largest commercial RF applications for GaN in the future.

Thanks, again to everyone who participated and attended this event. While military applications will continue to grow and drive fundamental development, I think we are on the verge of rapidly increasing commercial adoption of GaN. While CATV, infrastructure, Satcom and conversion applications are the likely initial candidates, many other applications are currently under evaluation. Keep an eye on the Strategy Analytics website as we continue to update our forecasts and thoughts on the GaN market!

 

Eric

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