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It’s spring and GaN is in the air!

by Eric Higham | May 31, 2013

I recently attended CS MANTECH in New Orleans and GaN was the favorite topic of the presenters. Nearly 50% of the presentations and posters at the conference mentioned GaN in the title. Now, GaN is not a new topic, but it’s been interesting to watch as the interest level increases down the supply chain, from the equipment manufacturers to the device manufacturers to the material and manufacturing equipment manufacturers. It’s been fun to watch, it’s like realizing that someone who has been close to you for a long time has suddenly assumed a much more important relationship.

Befitting a manufacturing conference, many of the GaN presentations addressed improving manufacturing readiness and making GaN devices more producible. We also heard reports of process and reliability improvements. A couple of things were abundantly clear from the presentations: government funding and collaboration between the public and private sector is still a driving force behind GaN developments and most of the development activity in the RF sector is for GaN-on-silicon devices.

This makes perfect sense as GaN technology tries to complete the transition from “great potential” to a proven, commercially viable technology with widespread adoption. GaN has been the “next big thing” for a long time but for a variety of reasons, devices have not gotten much traction outside of military applications. From the presentations I saw, this portion of the supply chain is hard at work to remove concerns about GaN manufacturing, reliability and repeatability.

I have just updated my GaN forecast and it can be found on our website: GaN Microelectronics Market Update 2012-2017. I found a market that is still driven by aerospace and defense applications and funding, but slowly seeing commercial adoption of the technology. I am forecasting that the overall market will grow strongly, with a CAAGR of 28% through 2017. As I did my research, it became clear that many commercial market segments are getting close to a point of inflection in GaN adoption, but most aren’t quite past that point just yet. There continues to be strong adoption of GaN devices in CATV infrastructure applications and wireless infrastructure applications are now seeing growth. Other RF commercial applications like microwave and millimeter wave radios and VSAT or Satcom networks present intriguing opportunities for the advantages of GaN and it looks like those segments will be contributing nicely to GaN device revenue in the near future.

The most interesting opportunity for GaN devices looks to be the power management segment. This is presently a very large market and the anticipated increase in data consumption and concern for energy efficiency should support continued growth of this market segment. GaN-on-silicon is the technology of choice for these applications. Manufacturers are already producing low cost GaN devices that are very competitive with the cost of the incumbent silicon-based technology, while easily surpassing the performance. I am forecasting that this segment will see explosive growth, with a CAAGR of slightly more than 90% over the forecast period.

I haven’t forgotten the aerospace and defense segment! The big uncertainty in this segment in the near future is the sequestration process in the US. This has added substantial uncertainty to the US DoD budget, but we remain optimistic that even if this issue is not resolved, GaN will still grow in these applications. We believe that with more scrutiny on where the budget dollars are spent, systems will become more sophisticated and this will mean more electronics content. Aerospace and Defense applications have accepted the technical superiority of GaN for quite some time. We think GaN will continue to capture share from other technologies and the net result will be more GaN content, even in the face of shrinking US DoD budgets.

Look at the report if you have a moment and please feel free to share your thoughts. This remains an extremely dynamic market with product, process and manufacturing developments occurring quickly. With so many commercial market segments being close to volume adoption of GaN devices, the overall market is likely to remain very dynamic and exciting, so stay tuned!

-Eric

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