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12 August 2008


More GaAs integration needed as CMOS PA challenge multiplies

The number of firms developing CMOS power amplifiers (PAs) for cell phones is increasing, according to the report ‘PA Technology Trends: 2008 – 2013’ from the Strategy Analytics RF & Wireless Components market research service. Work by more than 20 firms will lead to simplified multi-band, multi-standard front ends, potentially reducing the cost of cell phones while potentially disrupting established suppliers.

So far, CMOS silicon has captured a miniscule share of the PA market compared to gallium arsenide (GaAs) and LDMOS silicon. However, even in mainstream PA modules based on GaAs and LDMOS RF power elements, suppliers increasingly add CMOS support chips for linearity-efficiency management and control, which leads to the prospect of replacing entire conventional PA front-end modules from established suppliers with a potentially lower-cost monolithic PA solution in CMOS or silicon germanium (SiGe) BiCMOS from a host of chipset suppliers and start-ups. New technologies, such as MEMS tunable elements, could enable this transition.

“The GaAs PA suppliers have stayed well ahead of CMOS PA firms by responding quickly to market needs, and by developing improved fabrication processes, filters, complex RF switches, and low-cost packaging techniques to put these together in modules,” notes the report’s author Chris Taylor. As the market for cellular terminals matures, mainstream PA vendors will develop more sophisticated dual-mode and tunable GaAs and LDMOS-based PA modules for higher-data-rate, multi-band wireless handsets and mobile devices. “As we foresee the industry roadmap unfolding over the next five years in response to market needs, the GaAs and LDMOS PA suppliers will maintain this lead,” he adds.

Asif Anwar, director of Strategy Analytics’ GaAs and Compound Semiconductor program, comments, “It is crucial that GaAs vendors continue to improve the monolithic integration supported by GaAs for cellular PAs, otherwise CMOS will eventually replace GaAs, as it did about a decade ago in handset transceivers.”

See related items:

GaAs market grew 17% to $3.6bn in 2007

Silicon to displace GaAs in automotive radar from 2013

RF power semi market to near $1bn in 2012, with non-wireless-infrastructure markets taking up slack

Search: GaAs PAs CMOS silicon LDMOS silicon SiGe BiCMOS