GaN Transcendent: Driving the Scale, Supply Security and Surge Capacity for Mainstream RF Applications

Feb. 06, 2018

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The market landscape for RF semiconductor technology has experienced significant changes in recent years.

For decades, laterally diffused metal oxide semiconductor (LDMOS) technology has dominated the RF semiconductor market in commercial volume applications. Today, the balance has shifted, and Gallium Nitride on Silicon (GaN-on-Si) technology has emerged as the technology of choice to succeed legacy LDMOS technology.

GaN-on-Si’s performance advantages over LDMOS are firmly established – it delivers over 70% power efficiency, and upward of 4X to 6X more power per unit area, with scalability to high frequencies. In parallel, comprehensive testing data has affirmed GaN-on-Si’s conformance with stringent reliability requirements, replicating and even exceeding the RF performance and reliability of expensive Gallium Nitride on Silicon Carbide (GaN-on-SiC) alternative technology.

GaN-on-Si’s ascension to the forefront of the RF semiconductor industry comes at a pivotal moment in the evolution of commercial wireless infrastructure. Its proven performance leadership over LDMOS technology is driving its adoption within the newest generation of 4G LTE basestations, and positioning it as the likely de facto enabling technology for 5G wireless infrastructure going forward, with seismic market implications that could extend far beyond mobile phone connectivity, encompassing transportation, industrial and entertainment applications, among many others.

Looking further ahead, GaN-on-Si-based RF technologies have the potential to supplant antiquated magnetron and spark plug technologies to unlock the full value and promise of commercial solid-state RF energy applications, spanning cooking, lighting, automotive ignition and beyond, where huge gains in energy/fuel efficiency and heating and lighting precision are believed to be close on the horizon.

BREAKTHROUGH MANUFACTURING AND COST EFFICIENCIES

Given the unprecedented pace and scale of the impending 5G infrastructure build-out in particular, there’s been increased attention on the cost structures, manufacturing and surge capacities, and supply chain flexibility and surety inherent to GaN-on-Si relative to LDMOS and GaN-on-SiC. GaN-on-Si stands alone as the superior semiconductor technology for next-generation wireless infrastructure, offering the potential for GaN performance at LDMOS cost structures, with the commercial manufacturing scalability to support massive demand.

The joint announcement from MACOM and STMicroelectronics of plans to bring GaN-on-Si technology to mainstream RF markets and applications marks a pivotal turning point in the GaN supply chain ecosystem, combining MACOM’s RF semiconductor technology prowess with ST’s scale and operational excellence in silicon wafer manufacturing. While expanding MACOM’s source of supply, this agreement is also expected to lead to the increased scale, capacity and cost structure optimizations necessary for accelerating mass-market adoption of GaN-on-Si technology.

For wireless network infrastructure, this collaboration is expected to allow GaN-on-Si technology to be cost-effectively deployed and scaled for 4G LTE basestations as well as massive MIMO 5G antennas, whereby the sheer density of antenna configurations puts a premium value on power and thermal performance, particularly at higher frequencies. And when properly exploited, GaN-on-Si’s power efficiency advantages can make a profound impact on wireless network operators’ basestation operating expenses. MACOM estimates that the utility bill savings of switching only new macro base stations deployed in a year to MACOM GaN-on-Si can exceed $100M when modeled with an average energy rate of $0.1/KWh.

A NEW ERA

The evolution of GaN-on-Si from early research and development to commercial-scale adoption may prove to be the largest technology disruption to impact the RF semiconductor industry in a generation. Via our agreement with ST, MACOM GaN-on-Si technology is uniquely positioned to meet the performance, cost structure, manufacturing capacity, and supply chain flexibility requirements of 4G LTE and 5G wireless basestation infrastructure going forward, with untold promise for solid-state RF energy applications. Offering the prospect of RF solutions at price/performance metrics that would be otherwise unachievable with competing LDMOS and GaN-on-SiC technologies, GaN-on-Si’s potential has only just begun to be realized.

For more information about MACOM’s GaN-on-Si technology leadership, visit www.macom.com/gan


Disclaimer

All financial guidance projections referenced in this post were made as of the publication date or another historical date noted herein, and any references to such projections herein are not intended to reaffirm them as of any later date. MACOM undertakes no obligation to update any forward-looking statement or projection at any future date. This post may include information and projections derived from third-party sources concerning addressable market size and growth rates and similar general economic or industry data. MACOM has not independently verified any information and projections from third party sources incorporated herein. This post may also contain market statistics and industry data that are subject to uncertainty and are not necessarily reflective of market conditions. Although MACOM believes that these statistics and data are reasonable, they have been derived from third party sources and have not been independently verified by MACOM.

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