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Happy Holidays to the Compound Semiconductor Industry!

by Eric Higham | 12月 20, 2016

Well, it’s December again and that means the holidays and the end of another year. I celebrate Christmas, so I’m in the midst of buying and wrapping presents, trying to determine which of those two processes is the most painstaking, but keeping the spirit of the season in mind! I’m also contemplating all the different Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel and the proper holiday music to get me in the mood.

Fast on the heels of Christmas is New Year’s Day and that forms a nice backdrop to consider the events of the previous year and look forward to the new one. Personally, it’s been a good year. It’s an exciting time in the industry and I’ve gotten to meet some interesting people and see the results of their development efforts. Not everything has gone the way I had hoped and there have been low points, but they just provide areas for improvement in the upcoming year.

A new year brings resolutions; the things that we vow to improve in 2017, with the hopes that we don’t abandon these efforts before April! For me, the hope is to revitalize some of the things that fell by the wayside a bit toward the end of this year. Speaking of April, I hope to reconnect with my cousin April a bit more this year. If you are a regular reader, you may remember that I have used her wireless and broadband connectivity as a symbol of the challenges that the industry will face in its quest for ubiquitous broadband/wireless connectivity, so expect to hear more about her this year.

If you’ve stuck with this blog to this point, you may be wondering what this all has to do with the compound semiconductor industry. The same processes of assessing what went right and what missed the mark, along with plans for 2017 is what the leaders of the compound semiconductor industry have already done as they position for next year. Let’s look at some observations from 2016.

The acquisition trend that has been so prevalent the past several years remained important in 2016. Most acquisitions seem to fall into a couple of broad categories; a company is either expanding their market share and capabilities in existing markets, or diversifying markets, products, technologies, etc. Some examples of the former are II-VI buying ANADIGICS for their GaAs VCSEL capability, then spinning off other RF activities to Skyworks to augment/expand some of their existing market capabilities. Other acquisitions signal a concerted effort to diversify. We saw Qualcomm acquire NXP shortly after NXP digested Freescale and spun out Ampleon. Microsemi expanded their addressable markets by closing the acquisition of PMC-Sierra. Now, there are rumors that Skyworks, who lost the bidding war for PMC-Sierra to Microsemi may be looking to buy Microsemi. If you can’t beat them…acquire them! MACOM is acquiring AppliedMicro to extend their optical market portfolio and ADI is acquiring Linear Technology to expand their wireless and IoT offerings.

As we look back at 2016, it appears the concerns about the mobile cellular growth engine starting to slow down are real. The GaAs market is most sensitive to this and RF GaAs revenue growth is slowing noticeably. The optical component market appears healthy, with a lot of short-run data center activity. While this should be good for the compound semiconductor industry, particularly InP and SiGe, silicon is making inroads into these applications. GaN is still experiencing strong growth, but this technology faces a conundrum; growth in revenue ties strongly to microcell infrastructure deployments, but new networks will rely on lower power, densely packed small cells.

The biggest “new network” development is 5G and the amount of activity in this area is enormous. We’ve been doing a lot of research into likely development scenarios for 5G networks and user equipment and we are coming to some interesting conclusions. Expect more publications on this topic in 2017. One of the big takeaways is the technology that is used in the RF portion of the base stations depends strongly on the dimensions of a “massive MIMO” antenna and the mix of analog and digital beamforming. The “right” answer can run the gamut from silicon to GaAs to GaN and there will be a lot riding on how the 5G base station and user equipment architectures evolve. Definitely more to follow on this topic.

This blog echoes the holidays; thoughts about the past year (although they aren’t wrapped in festive, holiday paper) are like presents. Some will not be the right size or the right color, but some will hit the mark and be perfect! The New Year’s resolutions for companies (and me) for 2017 are straightforward; clarify the technologies, applications and market needs that will drive the compound semiconductor industry in 2017!

I wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season. Try to remember the spirit of the season and find time to enjoy and connect with loved ones. Oh and if you know my cousin April, don’t tell her I’m planning to rekindle my efforts at understanding her needs…I want to surprise her! J

I hope everyone shares my excitement to see what 2017 will hold!

-Eric

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