15 December 2010

GaAs IC market grows 36% in 2010

In 2010, strong demand in wireless (both cell phones and WiFi) has driven 36% growth in the gallium arsenide integrated circuit market (the highest since 2003’s 52%), according to the report ‘The GaAs IC Market’ from market research firm The Information Network. By comparison, the silicon IC market grew 33% in 2010. In 2011, strong momentum will drive the GaAs IC market to grow 18%, the firm reckons.

Every cell phone contains power amplifiers (PA), which enable the handset to transmit voice and data back to the base-station tower, which routes a call to another phone number or Internet address. PAs, the most critical radio frequency component in the phone, are currently dominated by circuits made with GaAs.

In particular, third-generation (3G) handsets often contain up to five PAs, and GaAs makes up 100% of the market, which is close to $5bn. In addition, the number of PAs per handset is growing due to complex 3G systems, global roaming support, and data roaming support.

Pricing for PAs has increased from $0.80 per handset to $2.90 currently, and is projected to increase to more than $3.50 after LTE (long-term evolution) and AWS (advanced wireless services) spectrum emerge on the market in advanced handsets.

While industrialized countries are using 3G networks, today’s world is a mixture of 2/2.5G and 3G networks. The heavy majority of subscribers are actually on 2G-based networks and are predicted to remain so for a number of years, says The Information Network. Of new handsets sold in 2010, about 50% will still be 2G.

2G handsets contain one PA, so it represents a sizable market. But because they are not as technologically advanced as 3G cell phones, particularly smartphones, silicon is making inroads into the GaAs domain. For 2009, 90% of PAs were made in GaAs, 5% in silicon CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor), and 5% in silicon LDMOS (laterally diffused metal oxide semiconductor).

Leading GaAs RF IC makers in the USA include RF Micro Devices, Anadigics, TriQuint, Skyworks and Hittite. For both Skyworks and RF Micro Device, 70–80% of their GaAs business is in PAs.

Besides the technical dynamics, Skyworks has positioned itself in the market with the mid-2009 acquisition of CMOS PA supplier Axiom Microdevices Inc. Also, in September 2009, privately held Black Sand Technologies Inc of Austin, TX announced the world’s first 3G CMOS RF PA. Black Sand’s proprietary CMOS PA architecture offers a breakthrough in combined performance, cost, battery life and reliability for mobile devices, says The Information Network. Other CMOS PA companies of note include Javelin and Amalfi. Another rumored to be working on CMOS PA is ACCO Semiconductor Inc of Sunnyvale, CA.

Replacing GaAs with CMOS can improve manufacturing yield, performance, cost, battery life and call quality, says The Information Network. The cost for GaAs is ~$0.10/mm2. By comparison, CMOS cost depends on process node, but mature CMOS technology pricing is often $0.05/mm2 or lower, or even as low as $0.02/mm2.

Tags: GaAs PAs GaAs

Visit: www.theinformationnet.com

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