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Fire Up the Grills, but Not with GaN Just Yet!

by Eric Higham | May 27, 2016

As I write this, we are on the precipice of Memorial Day Weekend. In the US, this holiday marks the unofficial start of summer when temperatures get warmer and “the livin’ is easy”, according to George Gershwin. This might be a year to take exception to both statements. Although things have warmed up here in the last couple of days, parts of northern New England and New York got snow recently! As far as “the livin’ being easy”, it’s been a very hectic past couple of weeks. I am very proud to say that my daughter graduated law school last weekend and that gave me a chance to spend some overdue, quality time with loved ones and friends. I am writing this a little bleary-eyed after taking a red-eye flight back from the International Microwave Symposium ( IMS 2016) in San Francisco where I got a chance to catch up with friends and colleagues from the microwave industry.

One of the central themes of most every RF conference these days continues to be the status of GaN technology. Now, not coincidentally, I published my latest RF GaN Market Update: 2015 - 2020 and accompanying RF GaN Market Forecast: 2015 - 2020 (Data Tables) in advance of the IMS conference and the exhibitors did not disappoint with their GaN developments. As I’ve pointed out previous reports and blogs, GaN has “crossed the chasm” (to borrow an expression from Geoffrey Moore) between early adopters and mainstream acceptance. I had conversations with a few GaN veterans on the show floor remarking on how far the commercial applications of the technology have come in in a relatively short time. The consensus was that the discussions about reliability, manufacturability and which applications might benefit have been replaced by aggressive growth plans.

The report concludes that wireless base stations represent the largest revenue segment for RF GaN and this application dominates the commercial portion of GaN revenue. The biggest driver for this revenue was the LTE deployment in China. As this growth engine throttles down, the revenue profile in this segment is sure to change. CATV/broadband, arguably the first broadly deployed commercial user of GaN will see some growth from the growth of DOCSIS 3.1 networks. High frequency commercial applications of GaN in satcom and point-to-point applications are growing, but still small. RF Energy applications of the technology remain fascinating and they are beginning to appear in commercial heating and lighting applications.

While commercial applications for GaN are undeniably past the tipping point, defense applications and funding nurtured the development of the entire supply chain and they are poised for fast growth. My research concludes that defense applications accounted for nearly 40% of GaN revenue in 2015. We anticipate that several new programs and platform upgrades will push defense revenue to nearly 50% of the market in 2020. Our analysis shows that radar applications continue to be the largest segment, while communications applications will see the fastest growth.

So, as we fire up the grills in the US for Memorial Day cookouts, we won’t be using GaN (that will be confined to microwave ovens), but we can rest easy that leading manufacturers like SEDI, Wolfspeed, Qorvo, MACOM, Ampleon and NXP are working hard to improve GaN capability and content in a wide variety of commercial and defense applications. I’ve included photographs below of some of the products introduced or on exhibit at IMS 2016. I hope everyone has a safe and relaxing start to the summer of 2016!

  • Eric

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