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IMS2015: Hot Products, Hot Acquisitions, (Dry) Heat

by Eric Higham | May 29, 2015

Welcome to my latest thoughts on the RF and compound semiconductor industry! As you know, I am fascinated with weather, months and seasons. I’ve told you I love April; it marks the start of spring and a time of renewal. Summer is for lounging around on the beach with close friends and a bit of a lull in conferences and announcements. Fall is a pretty time of the year and the compound semi industry throttles back up, but we don’t mention winter!

So, it was with great anticipation that I traveled to Phoenix, the Valley of the Sun, for IMS2015. The joke about Phoenix is that it’s hot…but it’s a dry heat. Well, I can confirm that it IS hot, although it was a bit cool for Phoenix. The climate is good for my vitamin D levels, but I’m told I’ll make a dermatologist very happy someday.

Okay, enough small talk, IMS2015 was a smashing success. There were a record-breaking 904 booths from 620 exhibitors at the show. The show floor layout was a bit different from the usual north-south/east-west rows, so some exhibitors felt they didn’t get good traffic because of that layout, but others claimed to be swamped with visitors. I spent more than 30 years in this segment of the RF industry, so it’s always good to reconnect with ex-colleagues and old friends to see what they are doing. The evolution of these activities and the industry over that period is startling.

Not surprisingly, many of the new and exciting topics in the broader electronics industry have found their way into this microwave conference. For the first time, there was an area dedicated to developments in the wearables segment of the industry. IoT (Internet of Things) activities figured prominently in products, presentations and Freescale even had an 18-wheeler with the bottom floor of the trailer devoted to their IoT developments. I had the pleasure of moderating a Microwave Journal-organized panel session at the MicroApps Theater, entitled “Path to 5G – Design and Test Challenges”.  We had speakers from MACOM, ADI, Keysight and National Instruments discussing their views on product developments, challenges, timing and thoughts on the developing 5G market.

One of the larger topics discussed at the show was GaN. Strategy Analytics hosted a lunch session entitled “IMS2015 Lunch Session: GaN Past the Tipping Point!” on Tuesday. Asif Anwar talked about GaN usage in military applications and Chris Taylor discussed some of the developments in the base station market that will enable GaN adoption. I closed the session with some thoughts on GaN adoption in commercial segments, along with forecasts on the commercial and total GaN market, trends drivers and challenges for further adoption. Judging by the 66 attendees and the extra chairs that we needed to bring in, there is still a lot of interest in GaN.

Another sign of interest was the number of GaN device product announcements from a variety of companies. MACOM was showing their GaN-on-silicon products, following up a pre-show announcement about the technology that talked about pricing in volume falling to half the $/W metric of LDMOS. Freescale, the leader in LDMOS revenue, expanded its GaN portfolio by announcing its first GaN transistor for base station applications. NXP continues to expand its GaN portfolio and they were demonstrating how GaN could be useful in heating and plasma lighting applications. Cree featured a couple of GaN transistors (33W and 500W) that target TWT applications. Qorvo introduced a family of GaN devices in plastic packages, ranging from 30W – 100W, aimed at commercial and military S-band radar applications. There were also a number of companies showing assemblies based on GaN devices. It’s clear that the GaN market has gotten traction in commercial markets and military are going into production. In addition to our lunch presentation, my latest thoughts on this market are contained in GaN RF Market Update: 2014 - 2019.

I’ve saved the most interesting for last. There was a definite flavor of acquisition spicing up the conference. I chatted with representatives from Peregrine Semiconductor about their recent acquisition by Murata. Murata has absorbed the GlobalONE CMOS PA activities, so they reorganized the people not associated with that activity into the newly formed high performance analog (HPA) business unit. Then the acquisition tremors started!

On Monday of the show week, Cree announced that they are preparing to IPO their Power & RF business. Cree plans to be the majority owner, but they hope that by decoupling this group from the larger portion, known primarily for LEDs, they can get the Power $ RF business on a new growth trajectory. Going into the show, the industry was already buzzing about the Freescale/NXP acquisition and the disposition of NXP’s RF Power group. The two companies controlled about 80% of the LDMOS market, so to address expected concerns from regulators, the initial announcement of the merger included a promise to divest the NXP group. Discussions with both NXP and Freescale representatives indicated companies were interested, but no one seemed to let on that anything was imminent. Yesterday (May 28th), NXP announced the group had been acquired by Jianguang Asset Management Company, (which is owned by the Chinese Government. “Mind-boggling” is probably too strong a term, but this is VERY interesting. It will be interesting to see how much control the Chinese company exerts. It will also be interesting to see how European and U.S. companies react to products developed by a company with Chinese ownership going into defense and wireless infrastructure products.

The biggest aftershock also hit on Thursday as Avago Technologies agreed to buy Broadcom for $37 billion. The combined company, to be known as Broadcom will be the third largest US semiconductor company by revenue, trailing only Intel and Qualcomm. There seem to be many synergies, with Broadcom’s connectivity chips enhancing Avago’s RF amplifiers, but this is about much more than that. The companies will enhance each other’s positions in overlapping markets and expand their overall market reach. As always, the devil will be in the integration details, but this is definitely worth keeping an eye on.

I’ve run a little long with this blog, but I hope you found some things to peak your interest.

- Eric

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