23 August 2010


Billion-dollar microwave tube market holding off GaN threat

While microwave and millimeter-wave high-power vacuum electron devices (VEDs) remain ‘below the radar’ of many industry observers, the total available market (TAM) for this segment is over $1bn, according to a study from ABI Research, which assesses how gallium nitride (GaN) devices could affect the sector.

Despite its size, and although these tubes remain essential elements in specialized military, scientific/medical and space communications applications, the market is generally under-reported and poorly understood by those not directly involved in it, comments ABI in the report ‘Microwave and Millimeter Wave High-Power Vacuum Electron Devices: Successfully Holding Off the Gallium Nitride Threat'.

Essentially, this is now a stable industry after several rounds of consolidation in recent years, says the market research firm. “There is potential for some further consolidation, but there are no signs of that happening yet,” notes director Lance Wilson. GaN RF technology may change the landscape, but has not yet done so to any meaningful degree, he adds. “While it is not yet monopolizing the microwave RF power industry, GaN is advancing steadily and is a technology that should be closely watched, as it will continue to be a threat to some aspects of the microwave and millimeter-wave VED marketplace.”

“The size of this market continues to surprise everyone and its longevity and firm resistance to RF power semiconductor encroachment is just as surprising,” Wilson continues.

“These specialized vacuum electron devices may at first seem anachronistic,” he adds. “But in some cases there is no other way to generate such high levels of RF power within an acceptably small space. Certain microwave and millimeter-wave VEDs can generate megawatts, and it would take tens of thousands of transistors to do that.”

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