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Getting Set to Turn the Page on the 2012 Compound Semiconductor Industry

by Eric Higham | 12月 19, 2012

As we get set to close the book on 2012, I thought I’d share some observations about the trends and results for the compound semiconductor industry. First and foremost, it hasn’t been a banner year, but the GaAs device market looks like it will eke out a small gain. Through three quarters, revenue in the device industry is showing a very small gain. On a positive note, many of the large GaAs device manufacturers have stated they are optimistic about their calendar fourth quarter prospects. This makes me optimistic the GaAs device industry will come close to the 2% growth I forecast at the beginning of the year. In addition, the GaAs revenue “pressure curve” (a concept I introduced in the “At the Halfway Point of 2012: GaAs Device Industry Shows Small Gain “ blog) has shown an upward trend with a value greater than 1 the past two quarters. Essentially, the pressure curve is a rolling average, so a value greater than 1 indicates growth and with companies optimistic about Q4, it wouldn’t be surprising to see another upward tick in the indicator.

This indicator fits well with our latest forecasts. The inescapable conclusion is growth in the handset market is still the single largest driver for the overall GaAs device market. This “growth” isn’t just unit growth, it also relies heavily on smartphone penetration since these devices contain more GaAs content than lower tier devices. After a flat year in 2012, our latest forecasts show much healthier growth in handsets and power amplifiers in 2013. The unit growth will be important because as smartphones become more prevalent, the rate of growth is slowing. Return to healthy growth for handset PAs, which make up more than 50% of the overall GaAs device market, bodes well for growth in 2013.

Most of the growth in the GaAs device market in the last 18 months can be attributed to handsets, as the network side of the market has been flat. While a tentative global economy probably is not helping, the time for increasing network investment would seem to be nearing. Data consumption continues to increase dramatically and this is placing a burden on all the networks, whether they are wireless or wired. In the upcoming year, I plan to update research on the wired CATV/broadband and fiber transport networks, along with developments in the wireless backhaul, infrastructure and VSAT networks to get a better understanding of the trends and drivers in these areas, so stay tuned for those updates.

As a final thought, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention GaN. This technology continues to attract a significant amount of interest in the compound semiconductor industry. It finally appears that we are getting commercial adoption of GaN-based devices and we can see the point of inflection for volume. CATV amplifiers continue to lead this commercial adoption, but we are hearing about more activity for GaN in wireless infrastructure, VSAT, high power electronics and even point-to-point radio applications. The tricky part is determining exactly where we are in relation to the point of inflection. I’m not completely sold on the hype (again), just yet, but I am willing to concede there is much more activity than a year ago. This is another topic that I will be diving into early in 2013 to get a better sense of the market.

As I sharpen my pencil for 2013, I’d like to wish everyone a very safe and happy holiday season and a prosperous New Year!


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