The global power amplifier market will increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 14% from 2016-2020, according to a report from Technavio that provides an analysis of the most important trends expected to impact the market.
The development of multi-band and multi-mode mobile computing devices that incorporate wireless communication systems (such as Bluetooth, wireless local-area networks, near-field communication, LTE and GPS) has led to greater demand for power amplifiers, primarily because amplifiers are compatible with higher-frequency bands, and are considered to be ideal for advanced RF requirements in new mobile devices.
According to Technavio’s hardware and semiconductor research analysts, the top three emerging trends driving the power amplifier market are: increasing wafer size; the adoption of CMOS technology by start-ups; and the growing need for high-speed amplifiers in the defense sector.
Increasing wafer size
Over the last 40 years, the semiconductor industry has seen an increase in wafer diameter, with gallium arsenide (GaAs) wafers growing from 50mm to 150mm, since this reduces the cost of manufacturing by at least 20-25%. The industry is now predominantly at 150mm for IC and power amplifier manufacturing. The use of 150mm wafers is expected to continue till late into the forecast period due to the heavy investments made by manufacturers such as Taiwan’s WIN Semiconductors toward the upgrade and new construction of fabs for this wafer size.
The industry is moving toward the development 200mm (8 inch) wafer technology, and pilot production is expected toward the end of 2018. Researchers at Stanford University are working on making the production process for 200mm GaAs wafers less expensive, so that they can compete directly with silicon wafers currently on the market at a much lower price. This will create demand for wafer fabrication equipment (including mask inspection equipment), notes Technavio.
Adoption of CMOS technology by start-ups
Power amplifiers are required for communications in smartphones and many Internet of Things (IoT) connected products, and start-ups like ACCO Semiconductor are increasingly adopting complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology. The firm has raised $35m to invest in the technology to improve its CMOS-based RF power amplifier business. It is relying on the growing opportunity for RF power amplifiers for cell phones and IoT products by focusing on power amplifiers manufactured using CMOS process technology.
The vast majority of power amplifiers are fabricated using silicon germanium (SiGe) or GaAs technology rather than CMOS. However, CMOS-based power amplifiers will help to achieve efficient performance at low cost, reckons Technavio, so the adoption of CMOS technology will increase during the forecast period.
Growing need for high-speed amplifiers in defense sector
The military sector needs more efficient use of spectrum and more mobile devices to be connected, hence it has a requirement for high-speed power amplifiers, notes Technavio. The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has made some progress in this regard with the Terahertz (THz) Electronics Program. Aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman has developed solid-state power amplifiers and the traveling-wave tube amplifiers, which are the only two types of devices operating at terahertz frequencies.
“THz frequency-based power amplifiers can be used in a lot of applications such as high-resolution security imaging, high-data-rate communications, collision-avoidance radar, and remote detection systems for dangerous chemicals and explosives, where high-speed amplifiers are a necessity for the faster function of these devices,” notes Sunil Kumar Singh, a lead analyst at Technavio specializing in research on embedded systems sector.